The sweltering sun beat down on the Killdeer High School football players as they prepared for the upcoming season. Sweat ran down their faces under their black helmets. Their black jerseys, drenched in perspiration, clung to their bodies like Saran wrap.
It was nearly 100 degrees, and probably hotter than that on the manicured football field at Killdeer High School. Across the way, coaches barked orders – some louder than others – on execution and fundamentals.
To most, the situation would be uncomfortable, even unbearable.
But not to these boys. They’re taking the dog days of summer in stride because it’s what they do. Some even broke a smile.
And that brings a smile to the face of Killdeer head coach Lou Dobitz, who is entering his eighth year with the Cowboys.
“In practice, they’re working hard,” said Dobitz, as he watched his team do pre-practice stretching exercises.
Each player took each exercise serious. There was no jocularity or small talk. They were all business. Their goal is to do execute every aspect of the game in every game and in practice.
That’s just what they do. And it has worked for the Cowboys, who opened the season Thursday against Dickinson Trinity High School at Dickinson State University. Killdeer has made it to the Class A state championship game the past two seasons, falling short on both occasions to Park River-Fordville-Lankin.
The Cowboys are rich in tradition, having won the region title two of the past four three years and a dozen times since 1993. They also won the state title in 1995.
But all that hardware is good for the scrapbooks, but not for the boys on the field.
“Every year is a new year,” Dobitz said.
And like every year, and every other high school football team, the Cowboys will be reloading, and in some cases, rebuilding. Killdeer lost four all-state players from last year, But Dobitz likes what he has coming back.
“We have a good group of guys,” he said.
Killdeer returns 20 lettermen and 11 starters – six on offense and five on defense – from last year’s squad that went 9-2.
One of the strengths could be on the front line. The Cowboys return senior starters Rope Smith, Ty Truchan, Anthony Holding Eagle and junior Liam McFadden, who saw extensive action in the trenches last year.
The line was one of the reasons the Cowboys averaged 40 points per game last year, and amassed nearly 4,000 yards in total offense (2,875 rushing, 942 passing).
But the other variable for those gaudy numbers is the backfield, and the cupboard is bare. Killdeer will have a new quarterback, running back and fullback.
Junior Alex Sadowsky and senior Hoyt Zander will split time at quarterback. Both will be playing the position for the first time. When not under center, Sadowsky will be featured at tight end and Zander will run plays at receiver and running back.
As for running back, senior Dillan Jepson will get a fair share of carries, although he will miss the first game due to an ankle injury suffered during a scrimmage with Dickinson High School and Dickinson Trinity High School. Junior Cole Dukart and sophomore Riley Reiss will also get some carries. Tom Kluver will see time at fullback.
The Cowboys will have to fill some spots at linebacker, after having lost three of the four starters from last year. Sadowsky, Jepson and junior Garrett LeMieux will try to fill the void.
Killdeer should be stout in the secondary, with returning starters Dukart, Reiss and Hoyt Zander leading the way.
Like any team, depth could play a major role in the Cowboys’ success. Staying healthy, Dobitz said, will be a key factor.
“We have to develop depth early in the season,” he said. “We have guys who have been starters mixed in with some new guys.”