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Nordick looks to build winning tradition as Panthers' new football coach

Leading the Park Rapids football team this season will be seniors (front from left) Jerry Engst, Chris Day, Nathan David, Kole Gieseke, Zach Fritze, Tristin Persons, Spencer Fritze, Cameron Hoyt, Angel Guajardo; (back) Ty Karger, Payton Hill, Jake Reish, Rylley Clark, Kian Scott, Brendan Kruchowski, Cody Dravis, Jack Hensel, Jacob Stewart. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

During his 11 years as head coach of the United North Central football team, Jeremy Nordick led the Warriors to a 47-58 record, three conference titles and the Section 8AA championship in 2015.

Nordick is looking to build another winning program as the new head coach at Park Rapids.

A year ago, the Panthers finished with an 0-7 record in Midwest Red District play and an 0-9 overall record. Nordick is looking to turn that record around.

In his first season as the UNC head coach in 2007, the Warriors went 4-0 to win the Prairie North Conference as Nordick was named the conference Coach of the Year. UNC finished with a 7-2 overall record in the second year of the pairing between Menahga and Sebeka. UNC also won the conference title with a 4-0 record in 2009 as Nordick received his second conference Coach of the Year honor as the Warriors went 7-3 overall. Over the next five years, the Warriors went 11-35, including an 0-9 record in 2014. However, Nordick led the Warriors to a 9-3 record in 2015 and a trip to the state Class AA semifinals. That was the first section title and trip to the state playoffs in school history for either Menahga or Sebeka in football and earned Nordick Section 8AA Coach of the Year honors.

Now Nordick takes over as the Panthers' head coach, replacing Aaron Morris. In nine years as head coach, Morris compiled a 27-59 overall record. In the past 21 years, the Panthers have posted only three winning seasons on the gridiron and advanced to only one section championship game (in 2012).

""We've had some great practices so far. Going in, I wasn't sure what to expect, but so far it's gone better than expected. I really like what I see," said Nordick, who will be assisted by Randy Thompson, Brian Johnson, Charles Hrdlicka, Cody Fox and Dan Pike. "We're looking to change the culture and the attitude here. We're focusing on a positive, winning mentality. We're not going to be satisfied with mediocrity. We're not going to accept that and so far the kids have bought into it. The big thing is making progress. We want to make progress day to day and improve every opportunity we get."

A talented group of players returns from a team that was outscored 241-72 and lost to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 45-12 in the first round of the Section 8AAA playoffs. Being counted on to lead the Panthers this fall are the 14 players who saw extended playing time. That group features seniors Nathan David, Cody Dravis, Spencer Fritze, Zach Fritze, Jack Hensel, Payton Hill, Cameron Hoyt, Brendan Kruchowski, Tristin Persons, Jake Reish, Kian Scott and Jacob Stewart; and juniors Jens Anderson and Jeff Haas.

Returning to lead the offense are Anderson and Spencer Fritze at quarterback; Persons, Dravis and Zach Fritze at running back; David, Hoyt, Reish, Spencer Fritze and Haas at receiver; and Hensel (center), Kruchowski (guard) and Stewart (tackle) on the line. Hill will move from the line to the backfield while Scott will start at guard.

Persons was the Panthers' leading rusher after gaining 307 yards on 96 carries with two TDs and catching 18 passes for 155 yards. Anderson took over as the starting quarterback, completing 43 of 87 passes for 355 yards and three TDs before suffering an injury. Anderson also rushed 31 times for 70 yards and a TD. Dravis rushed 29 times for 114 yards and caught six passes for 95 yards. Spencer Fritze rushed seven times for 22 yards and caught five passes for 26 yards while Zach Fritze gained 34 yards on nine carries. David caught 18 passes for 154 yards, Hoyt had 10 receptions for 58 yards and a TD, and Reish had four receptions for 35 yards.

The Panthers return their top defensive point producers with Dravis (115 points on 24 solo tackles and 63 assisted tackles) at linebacker, Kruchowski (96 points on 22 solo tackles and 48 assists) at linebacker and Spencer Fritze (87 points on 16 solo tackles and 46 assists) in the secondary. Also back with plenty of varsity experience are Hensel (43 points on 12 solo tackles and 19 assists), Scott (27 points on 13 assists) and Stewart (19 points on 14 assists) on the line; David (22 points on 16 assists) at linebacker; and Persons (47 points on 12 solo tackles) in the secondary.

Competing for the other offensive starting spots are seniors Chris Day and Kole Gieseke at wide receiver; senior Jerry Engst and junior Hunter Brandt at tight end; and senior Ty Karger at tackle. Juniors Joe Stachowski and Gabe Arola will provide depth on the line.

Also playing key roles on defense will be Stachowski, Arola and junior Hunter Carnell on the line; Day, Hill, Zach Fritze and Karger at linebacker; and Reish, Hoyt, Haas and senior Rylley Clark in the secondary.

Graduating from last year's team were Josh Baker, Matthew Benson, Marque Cook, Bradley Graham, Jason Haas, Blake Higgins, Zach Hocking, Marty Roesler and Zach Severtson.

On offense, Haas completed 43 of 117 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown, caught 11 passes for 146 yards and a TD, and rushed 70 times for 125 yards and two TDs. Severtson led the team with 10 punt returns for 69 yards while catching 18 passes for 126 yards and two TDs and rushing 26 times for 146 yards and two TDs. Graham and Matthew Benson started at guard while Hocking was a starter at tackle.

Defensively, Cook (70 points) and Roesler (16 points) played end with Hocking (43 points) at a tackle. Baker (54 points) started at linebacker with Haas (64 points) and Higgins (13 points) at cornerback. Severtson (80 points) was a starting safety and averaged 31.3 yards on 41 punts.

Rounding out this year's varsity team are senior Angel Guajardo (wide receiver); juniors Keaton Koskela (running back/cornerback), Joey Klein (running back/linebacker), Max Crist (running back/linebacker), Tanner Hensel (offensive lineman/linebacker), Brian Karkinen (wide receiver/defensive back), Kolby Brandt (lineman), Shawn Ohm (lineman), Austin Hogden (lineman) and Nate Wood (wide receiver/defensive back); and sophomores Lane Monaghan (wide receiver/cornerback), Alec Nordin (wide receiver/defensive back), James Hartig (wide receiver/defensive back) and Caleb David (running back/linebacker).

The freshmen team will feature Josiah May, Kobe Burton, Sam Reish, Parker Harmon, Jordan Bethelson, Tristan Hill, Kaleb Stearns, Isaac Knapp, Mason Schilling, Aurora Annette, Nash Mitchell, Darryl Etter, Kameron Siltman, Nick Michaelson, Evan Edevold, Tyson Norcross and Joseph Jenkins.

Last season, Fergus Falls won the district title with a 7-0 record while Pequot Lakes, Perham and D-G-F all finished at 5-3. Pequot Lakes defeated Perham 56-22 in the section title game. Nordick is looking for the Panthers to contend for both titles this fall.

"We're putting in a new system on both sides of the ball, so we're going to go through some growing pains. But once we get comfortable, we're going to be fine. I look for us to be pretty balanced on offense and we're going to have a high pressure, high attacking defense," said Nordick. "I feel really good about the leadership of our 17 seniors. We're going to rely on them to lead us. We're going to take it one game at a time and continue to make progress and grow. I'm cautiously optimistic. This group is tired of being the doormat and they want respect. They're ready to prove a point. This is a really hungry group and I think we can compete with anybody."

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