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Double-digit Dodgers honored in football

Daniel, Clayton, Schreier, Springer, Erickson named first team all-district

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge's Sam Daniel dives into the end zone against Ames inside Dodger Stadium.

A season filled with stress, uncertainty, injuries and challenges still had a rewarding conclusion for the Fort Dodge football program, as 10 Dodgers garnered either first- or second-team honors in the CIML’s Iowa district.

Seniors Sam Daniel, Dayson Clayton, Tyler Schreier and Sawyer Springer were named to the first squad, along with junior Jake Erickson. Seniors James Daniel and Dylan Zimmermann made the second team, as did juniors Carson Peterson and Jace Ulrich and sophomore Javion Jondle.

“I’m proud of these kids for a lot of reasons,” first-year head coach Nik Moser said. “We played one of the toughest schedules around, with five of our seven (regular-season) opponents either going undefeated or losing one game. We faced two of the four state semifinalists (champion Ankeny and seven-time defending title holder West Des Moines Dowling). We dealt with a ton of adversity and changes in our lineup. And we did it all with the doubt from (the COVID-19 global pandemic) swirling around our season every day of every week.

“It was a frustrating year for a lot of reasons, but more fun than anything. So much happened beyond our control, yet we worked our way through it.”

Daniel, a safety, led Class 4A and set a new FDSH school record with eight interceptions. He also broke the Dodgers’ all-time mark with 12 picks for his career, and accumulated 284 return yards with a score on kickoffs.

“Sam is just a pure athlete,” Moser said. “He’s just very smooth and doesn’t get rattled. The definition of a true football player. To have 12 (picks) in 18 starts (spanning two seasons) is just a whole new level of productivity.

“He was a ball hawk on defense, an outstanding return guy for us, and even (accumulated over 200 yards from scrimmage in limited work) offensively. He’s a special kid and we’ll miss his playmaking ability.”

Clayton ran through opponents like a freight train during the first few weeks of the season before hurting the same ankle that plagued him during an injury-riddled junior campaign in 2019. The four-year starter still rushed for 1,055 yards and nine touchdowns, despite playing in what amounted to only five full appearances.

“We definitely saw Dayson at his full potential early (when Clayton had 679 yards in the first two weeks, with the best and third-highest single-game outputs in Fort Dodge history),” Moser said. “He tried his best to gut his way through the last month or so, and it was good to see him finish strong (with 154 yards in a postseason loss at Waterloo West). But we’ll always wonder what it would’ve been like if he’d had a full year of health.

“He grew up a lot this season and embraced the leadership role of being a captain. Every opposing coach treated his ability with the utmost respect, which he earned. Dayson was a great Dodger back — one of the very best.”

Clayton’s 3,481 rushing yards ranks behind only Sam Cook and Dayson’s brother, Jontel, all-time at FDSH.

Schreier was an electrifying return man, while also racking up 48 receptions for 714 yards and nine touchdowns — mostly on sweep passes.

“Tyler just made things happen,” Moser said. “If you could get him around the corner and out in the open, look out. He could turn a simple play into something big every time he touched the ball. In our eight games, no one was faster on the field.”

Springer, a three-year starter on the offensive line, fought through a severe shoulder injury over the last month of the season. Like Clayton, Springer was only healthy in brief stretches over the final two years of his Dodger career.

“Sawyer has just been our rock,” Moser said. “In the past, our quarterbacks were making (play calls, checks and audibles) at the line. That responsibility went to Sawyer (as the center). He was a mature leader, and is just an outstanding all-around person. His football knowledge and IQ were unmatched. We’re definitely going to miss him, and really wish he was able to avoid the injury bug. It really took its toll.”

Erickson emerged as a reliable option in the defensive backfield during his first varsity campaign.

“Where Sam excelled in pass coverage, Jake was really our run stopper (at safety),” Moser said. “I think his junior year, production-wise, was very comparable to what Sam did as a junior. And I think he has a big senior season ahead of him.

“Jake just has a knack for being around the ball. It’s part instinct and part hard work. I’m really looking forward to working with him (in the offseason). His best football is ahead of him.”

James Daniel was Fort Dodge’s leading tackler, and also paced the Dodgers in tackles for loss.

“Moving James to the inside (as a linebacker) really made him more effective and allowed our linebacking corps to function at a higher level,” Moser said. “He loved to hit and the physicality of football. Just a tough kid. I’d take a guy like him on our defense every year if I could.”

Zimmermann was another effective linebacker before suffering a foot injury at Urbandale midseason that sidelined him until the playoffs.

“We weren’t sure where Dylan was going to be (position-wise) in preseason camp, but he wanted to focus on being a linebacker, and we’re glad he did,” Moser said. “He ran really well, had a nose for the ball, and showed an ability to tork his body through a gap and make a play. Just a really solid leader.”

Peterson threw for 1,083 yards and 13 touchdowns as a first-year varsity quarterback.

“Carson was really getting into a rhythm through the Urbandale game, but got banged up that week and really struggled to get back to 100 percent,” Moser said. “He’s a gamer who loves to compete.

“Carson doesn’t let any of the negativity get to him; he has a short memory and brushes off adversity. Always gives maximum effort with a smile on his face.”

Ulrich — the son of former Iowa State University fullback Chris Ulrich — “was one our best (offensive) linemen” as a fullback, and also took the field up front defensively.

“Jace is just hard-nosed, and the best true fullback we’ve had in a while,” Moser said. “He loves playing football, and he’s also a great communicator on the field. He was out there for over 90 percent of our snaps. Jace will be a key piece to the puzzle for us next year.”

The 6-foot-2 Jondle “is just starting to scratch the surface” as a wide receiver. He caught 31 passes for 407 yards and six touchdowns.

“You could really see it in flashes with Javion,” Moser said. “He was big for us in the win at Marshalltown and again the next week at Urbandale. He caught a long touchdown pass from Petey in our playoff game. He has a huge upside and will only grow more physically and mentally from here. The best is yet to come.”

Seniors Thomas Daniel (LB), D’Arien Calahan (DB), Reco Jolly (DL) and Jerry Chada (DB) were honorable mention selections, along with junior defensive end Pry’Shayn Mosley.

The Dodgers went 3-5 overall. After beating Ames and Sioux City East, Fort Dodge fell to Ankeny in a Top-10 showdown at home before taking down Marshalltown on the road. Consecutive losses to Urbandale, Sioux City East and West Des Moines Dowling followed, with a close setback at Waterloo West in Class 4A’s second round ending the year.

The Black Raiders, Hawks, J-Hawks and Maroons all finished in the Top-10.

“We ran the gauntlet with this schedule,” Moser said. “It was as tough as we’ve seen here start to finish in a while. It took a lot out of us; we never started the same lineup after Week 1. But we fought hard. The seniors were an awesome group, and the juniors learned a lot and got better.

“I think we handled everything well, even though it was a bizarre year and I think we’d all like to have a few plays here and there back — especially from that West game. But that’s the way it goes in football sometimes. You learn from it and move on.”

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