Athlete of the week: Denis Bardashevskiy, Elk River, football: Out of nowhere

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

For a guy who has rushed for more than 3,000 yards, Denis Bardashevskiy is hard guy to catch on film. That’s because he’s 25 yards downfield  before the photographer (or the defense or the referees) know he’s got the ball. The record-setting senior fullback is a master at breaking long runs in Elk River’s misdirection plays.

Bardashevskiy similarly came out of nowhere as a football star. He didn’t start football until ninth grade and played sparingly on both the freshman and sophomore teams. He was not preceded in sports by any family members as he’s the only athlete in the household.

“It surpassed me a little, but I knew I had some speed and versatility,” he reflected.

Ukrainian-born Denis Bardashevskiy holds game, season and career rushing records for Elk River football. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
Ukrainian-born Denis Bardashevskiy holds game, season and career rushing records for Elk River football. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

When coach Steve Hamilton and his staff were looking for their wing-T feature back for the 2012 season — their league MVP, Moses Saygbe, had graduated, and his heir apparent, Michael Larkins, had moved to Chicago — Bardashevskiy looked good hitting the holes and following blocks, and clearly had the most breakaway speed.

“The biggest thing is, he can really go, and that’s what we look for in that spot,” said Hamilton. “We need him to be the home-run hitter that can take it to the house any time, and put that on the defense, that they better look out for this guy.”

Bardashevskiy gained 160 yards in 24 carries his first game, a 28-14 loss to Blaine, and finished his junior year with 1,938 yards in 239 carries (an 8.1 average), including 211 at Willmar and 370 at Rogers in the playoffs, helping the Elks go 6-6 and win the section championship. He scored 18 touchdowns, one on a kick return.

Barashevskiy had another monster game Friday, Oct. 4, with 280 yards and four touchdowns against Armstrong, giving him 1,082 yards in 120 carries (9.0 average) and eight touchdowns this year, and 3,020 yards and 26 touchdowns in his career.

The 6-foot, 164-pound athlete has surpassed a bucket full of yellowing school records held by Jeff Hawkins, an ERHS (1973) charter Hall-of-Famer —single game (340), single season (1,655) and career (2,897) which he got Friday with a 70-yard touchdown run.

“It feels really good, but it’s all about the line,” said Bardashevskiy about the career record. “I get excellent blocks and I just follow them. Tonight was a little like the Rogers game last year.”

Hawkins still has the single-season TD record of 19, while Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin has the Elk career record of 37 touchdowns as a wide receiver.
Barshaveskiy has busted two 90-yard runs (both in playoffs last year) along with two 81-yarders and a 76, 70, 69, 64, 55 and 50.

Asked what it’s like to burst into an open field and sprint to the end zone, he said, “It’s a lot of fun, but I still have the fear in the back of my head that some guy is going to come down and clip the ball out of my hand or clip my ankle. I’ve been caught from behind lots of times.”

Aside from rushing records, this has been a trying season as the Elks started 0-5 against a brutal schedule before beating Armstrong.

“I’ve been getting down on myself,” he admitted. “I feel like there’s a couple games I could have scored more and should have had more yards and more first downs. But you’ve got to keep going. We have to keep running the ball like we are doing.”

Bardashevskiy is a sprinter on the track team — “Mainly to get faster and stay in shape for football” —with some success. Last spring, he anchored the 4-by-100 and 4-by-200 relays that qualified for state and set school records last year. He took fourth in the section and fifth in the conference in the 200 dash. His personal bests are 22.73 in the 200 and 11.3 in the 100.

About that Russian name: Bardashevskiy was born in the Ukraine, but his family arrived in the U.S. when he was a year old. They visited his parents hometown, fifty miles from Kiev, for two months the summer before his freshman year, but he felt very little bond with the old country.

“I was pretty homesick,” he said, “and that’s why I didn’t play much as a freshman, because the other kids were playing football.”

Bardashevskiy is always quick to give credit to God, his family, coaches and teammates whenever accolades come his way.

“I had him in class, and he is a great student, very conscientious,” said Hamilton. “He works hard, and he wants to do the right things in school, too.”


Denis Bardashevskiy
Denis Bardashevskiy

Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents Peter and Olga; brother Stan; sisters Yana and Diana … Sports: football, track … Academics: mostly A’s … College plans: undecided where or major, wants to play football
Favorite stuff — Class: Strength-conditioning in P.E. … TV show: “Breaking Bad” … Movies: “Never Back Down” and “Step-Brothers” … Reading: MN Football Hub … Food: Olive Garden and Chipotle fare … Drink: Powerade blue … Team: Vikings … Athetes: Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch … Would like to visit: Bahamas