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Moser era begins with Dodgers hosting Ames

An offseason filled with uncertainty and abnormal circumstances yields – at least for a few hours – to the tried and true feeling of a Friday night at Dodger Stadium here this evening.

It won’t necessarily look or feel the same as a typical season opener, but the Fort Dodge football team will nevertheless take the field for a game against Ames at 7 p.m.

Given the uncertain climate the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to create, there are really no guarantees moving forward. As such, programs across the state will be carrying a heightened sense of urgency — both to play the right way and do the right thing.

“We’re ready and excited, taking things one day at a time and appreciating the opportunity to be out there,” said new FDSH head coach Nik Moser. “It’s time. We’ve been working hard and taking necessary precautions. The kids are getting better and meshing well together. Great attitudes and leadership. Very eager.

“The important step to take every single day at this time of the year is forward. When you’re replacing as many starters as we lost (to graduation, 17), the transition doesn’t happen all at once. But when you start to see things click for guys who have been waiting their turn, that’s when the game really gets fun.”

Moser was a ballboy during Fort Dodge’s early-1990s playoff years for his father, Sam — then the FDSH leader. As a player, Moser became an all-state defensive back in the late-90s through the year 2000. And following a successful career at Iowa State University, Moser moved back to Fort Dodge and joined Matt Miller’s staff in 2008 as a volunteer assistant.

On Friday, the 38-year-old becomes the first former Dodger athlete in the modern era to also serve as the program’s head coach.

“It’s going to be a little surreal,” Moser admitted. “It’s obviously a big adjustment period for me, too. I’ve learned already (with the novel coronavirus challenges) that it’s a lot easier as the OC (offensive coordinator) to ask this or wonder about that, compared to being the guy at the top. Thankfully, I’ve been able to regularly communicate with both my dad and Matt about (that period of transition).

“I also have to say how lucky I am to have our staff in place. They know me: both what clicks, and my potential downfalls. I really appreciate their hard work and communication. It’s all starting to sink in as we get closer to kickoff; I’ve been up until 2 a.m. every night this week, just making a lot of mental checklists and thinking about everything. A lot of anxious anticipation.”

Eight Dodgers return to the lineup this season: center Sawyer Springer, tailback Dayson Clayton, specialist Tyler Schreier, defensive backs Sam Daniel and Jerry Chada, defensive lineman Pry’Shayn Mosley, kicker Gavin Schillerstrom and former offensive lineman Jace Ulrich. Springer, Clayton and Daniel will serve as captains.

A number of other players – including senior defensive lineman Reco Jolly, senior linebackers James Daniel, Thomas Daniel and Dylan Zimmermann, senior defensive back D’Arien Calahan, junior offensive lineman Jake Wagner and junior defensive back Jake Erickson – also regularly saw the field a year ago.

“We have a lot of guys who have been patiently waiting their turn,” Moser said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them work together in a game. There will be mistakes, but I want them to be aggressive. We’ll take some chances and mix some things up.

“We’re starting 11 seniors, including eight on defense, so it’s not like we’re necessarily young overall. Just inexperienced. They were behind a really good senior group (that went 13-7 overall and qualified for the playoffs twice during the last two seasons).”

Clayton worked his way through an injury-plagued campaign last fall, but is operating at full-strength now. The 220-pound bulldozer is a four-year starter and already ranks fourth on FDSH’s all-time rushing charts.

Daniel intercepted a team-best four passes in 2019 and recovered a pair of fumbles. Schreier had 309 receiving yards with three touchdowns, and returned a kickoff for a score at Ankeny Centennial.

Springer was plagued by injuries, but still gutted his way through the season. He is now healthy as well.

“We have some playmakers, and guys who know what it takes,” Moser said. “We also have some good athletes who are still getting used to the pace and consistency it’s going (to require) at this level. But we’ll keep coaching them up and preaching patience, as long as the effort is there.”

Junior Carson Peterson and sophomore Connor Carver are both expected to see time at quarterback. Fort Dodge has crowned an all-state signal-caller in three consecutive seasons, with Drake Miller earning honors in both 2017 and ’18 and Asle Thorson being recognized last year.

“I really like what both Carson and Connor bring to the table, but again, we’ll have to grow as they do. It doesn’t just happen overnight,” Moser said. “Especially with four new offensive linemen, too. We’ll look really good at times, and we’ll make some mistakes at times.”

Ames is likely to be in a similar boat. The Little Cyclones have a new head coach, former Southeast Polk assistant Kevin Ferguson, and a number of new starters from a squad that went 3-6 last season.

“I would expect his offense to look very similar to Southeast Polk, and their defensive coordinator was (retained), so I’m anticipating a typical 4-4 Ames defense,” Moser said. “(Star basketball player) Tamin Lipsey is back (after missing last season with an injury), and he’s a terrific athlete. They’ll have speed at the skill positions, and they have some experience in the backfield.”

The Little Cyclones lead the all-time series, 33-29-3, though the Dodgers have reeled off four consecutive wins and are 7-2 against Ames since 2009. The programs first squared off in 1913, and have met in all but two of the last 52 seasons.

Fans are being strongly encouraged to wear face coverings and socially distance at Dodger Stadium tonight. As an alternative, the Fort Dodge Community School District is offering a live-stream feed at https://www.sportscopelive.com for $6 per game. Sign-up is required before the game kicks off at 7.

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