The season opens Sat. at home vs. Providence Academy.
Head coach Scott Butt and his Pirates are determined not to repeat last season's 1-8 record. With hard work led by 17 seniors, some luck and a much more favorable schedule there should more wins in store for the Blue and Gold.
"The biggest thing that has helped is our seniors," coach Butt said about not repeating last season's one win. "They have said, 'we are not going to go through this again.' They have pushed hard with the younger kids to make sure everyone is working hard to not let that happen again. Our senior leadership has been great as far as we're not going down that road again. And if we do we're going to go down swinging. I have been very happy with practice. We seem to have pretty good focus, and if we aren't focused we seem to get it back pretty quick."
Crookston is in its second season in Section 8AA but its schedule looks a lot different this season. Gone are Perham, Detroit Lakes and longtime rivals Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks. Here are Providence Academy, which is the only Class AAA school on the schedule, Barnesville (8AA), Hawley (8AA), Breckenridge (6AA), Frazee (8AA), Pelican Rapids (6AA), Warroad (8AA) and Staples-Motley (6AA).
"You have to look at Barnesville right away, them and Hawley," coach Butt said of the section favorites. "Those two and Frazee are your three teams to beat. I think we have a chance to slide in there. Those are the three you have to look at and say these three are going to battle for the title. The other team that surprised people last year is Breckenridge. They have a group we struggled to beat a few years ago as sophomores."
The Pirates start the season Saturday, Aug. 23 at home against Providence Academy of Plymouth, Minn.
"The schedule is still very tough with Barnesville, Hawley, Frazee and also Breckenridge being really pretty good," said Butt. "I believe that if we can have some success early in the season it will carry over into a lot of the games."
In his third season, coach Butt is excited about the direction of Pirate Football and he has learned a few valuable lessons in his first couple seasons of coaching high school football.
"The biggest thing from year three is making sure I learn from one and two," he said. "I made mistakes in years one and two. I was treating it too much like I was still in college. They don't always know everything that we thought that they knew. There has to be an intensity level brought every day. We see that more than we see anything. It's hard to believe it's game week already.
"Amazing how fast time goes," Butt continued. "I am excited for where we're at for the future of the program. We have some really good young kids coming up. There are a lot of positive things in the football program right now. We have had more help from people to keep this thing going. From people in town to parents to the guy I replaced, Chris Trostad. He has gone out of his way to help us."
The Pirates return a large core group to their offense, but have also made some changes.
"Right now, our hopes are to get better every week, obviously," coach Butt said. "If we can block we have the potential to put points on the board. It's a matter of how quick we can gel and how well we mature. I think our position players can be good if we can protect them."
The quarterback position was a problem for the Pirates last season. Between the three passers who saw significant time last season they combined for just two touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a completion percentage of about 41 percent.
This season seniors Parker Salentine and Seth Desrosier are competing for the starting job. Coach Butt said to expect both of them to see snaps in Saturday's season opener.
"Right now we have two guys that can play in Parker and Seth," Butt said. "Parker is a little bit ahead of Seth right now. We have to make sure we're always competing. Both know they are going to get playing time. I have enjoyed working with them so far. They have competed against each other but turned around and helped each other at the same time. The great thing about these two quarterbacks is they remembered what they did as juniors and want to be better. I remember a few years back Dylan Klatt struggled in his junior year and came back for a great senior year. I have seen that already from these two. I am not ready to anoint one guy as our full-time guy."
Senior Aaron Hollcraft, who played some at quarterback last season, will be the featured tailback with senior Brandt Delage right behind him. Delage was second on the team in rushing last season with 288 yards on 53 carries and three touchdowns, including a 62-yard run. Sophomore Chris Wavra will be the third tailback.
"Aaron has looked very good," coach Butt said. "He likes to run, whether its between the tackles or on the edge. He's got some shift to him. You want to get your best athletes the ball more than five times a game. It comes natural to him. And he knows he has Brandt right there with him to give him a break. Brandt has that thing you can't coach, speed. He can go the distance any time."
At fullback, seniors Luke Edlund and Mikey Hajostek are both one on the depth chart, noted coach Butt. Hajostek led the Pirates in rushing last season with 291 yards on 57 carries and one touchdown.
The Pirates return their top receiver from last season in senior Ryan Porter, who had 285 yards on 21 receptions. Senior Joey Koenig and junior Elias Walski will be the other receivers. Senior Danny Davidson will play at tight end, and coach Butt sees him having a big season.
"Ryan has done a nice job this fall camp," Butt said. "Joey and Elias will play the X or split end. All three bring a lot to the table. Elias is home schooled and he played for us last year. I don't know if people realize how good of an athlete he is. He played a lot on JV last year. We haven't had a tight end for two years, and judging by practice, I think Danny will have a big year."
The offensive line consists of junior Cody Wardner or senior Austin Sommerfeld at left tackle, senior Nicholai Broekemeier at left guard, senior Kyle Stegman at center, junior Zach Lutz at right guard and sophomore Dane Anderson at right tackle.
Depth is a concern for the Pirates on the line but if they can stay healthy coach Butt is confident they will be successful.
"We have three kids at two positions with right and left tackle," coach Butt said. "Those three give us some size compared to other guys we got. Depth is a concern. We have young kids that can help us by the middle to the end of the year. Ethan Christopherson has done a nice job as our second center. I feel good there. Only three guys ready at tackle concerns me. We are five deep at guard, so I feel good about guard."
Coach Butt said senior Andy Gjerswold is dealing with an injury but can come back to compete at right guard when healthy.
The Pirate defense returns a number of solid veterans and should be Crookston's strength this season. The secondary is fast and athletic with Delage and junior Patrick Deng on the corners and Porter at free safety.
"I would put our corners up against anybody in northwest Minnesota," coach Butt said. "Brandt and Patrick can flat out cover."
Working our way inside, at outside linebacker will be Hollcraft and Walski with Davidson and senior Cody Weiland as inside linebackers. On the line, Hajostek and senior Patrick Berg will be at the ends with Edlund and Anderson on the inside. Berg is battling an injury so Broekemeier will be in his place until healthy.
"Our defense is ahead of the offense," coach Butt said. "We have a lot of returners on defense. We expect them to play well. Our inside linebackers played an awful lot of football last year. I expect to be one of the top defenses in the section."
Weiland was the team co-leader in defensive points last season with 139.5, while Davidson finished fourth with 97. Delage and Deng both made the top ten in defensive points last season too.
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