by Eric Oslund
Before the start of the 2017 season, Elk River head football coach Steve Hamilton said that this year’s team may be more physically gifted than last year’s, which says a lot considering the Elks were able to take home the program’s first ever state title in 2016.
Where the two really differed, though, was the depth. The depth on Team 125 was incredible, as the coaches had confidence in their backups at nearly every position on the team. But that depth may never have been truly appreciated, though, as they rarely, if ever, had to replace any of their starters throughout the 13-game season.
“Last year was, we never got any injuries,” head coach Steve Hamilton said. “It was one of those, football gods smiled on us.”
This season appears to be a different story. The Elks were down about four or five running backs by the time their game against Monticello on Friday, Sept. 8, came to an end, which included two of their starters.
Adam Nelson, who was the leading rusher in their Week 1 win over Moorhead, missed the entire week leading up to their second game with an illness, and then Sherrod Kpahn missed time during the game after suffering an injury. The Elks need the speed of those two players on the field as much as possible, because they are relied upon for the big, game-changing plays.
“We miss his speed because with Nick (Rice) and Sam (Gibas) last year, we had guys who could take it to the house,” Hamilton said of Nelson’s absence. “Adam is a guy who can run, but we didn’t have him.”
With those two out, the Elks had to rely on players like Jon Suchy stepping up. He is a hard-nosed, grind-it-out type of player that did a good job leading the Elks against Monticello, but he just didn’t have that top-end speed that some of his teammates possess.
That meant the Elks were going to have to grind out a win, and not rely on the big plays so many had become accustomed to. The only problem with that was they were also missing multiple linemen upfront. The guys playing didn’t have time to build chemistry with one another, and you need that, especially when trying to put together those longer drives.
“It makes it tougher because those long drives, you’re more likely to get a false start, you’re more likely to get a hold,” Hamilton explained. “It’s tough to go 15-, 16-play drives and not make mistakes in high school. If we’re not going to be able to break the long ones we have to just grind it out.”
And grind it out they did on their way to a 28-12 win. It may not have always been the prettiest of performances on the offensive side of the ball, but the players stepped up when they needed to, and the defense rose to the occasion, shutting down their opponents for the final three quarters.
“It was a battle for sure, not going to lie, didn’t expect it to be, but the team again buckled down and persevered through the whole game,” quarterback Mitch Stroh said. “It’s fun when the battle’s like that.
“When it comes down to it, it’s going to be attitude, effort and energy. That’s all you can control, and if our guys do it every week, if they’re close games they’re close games, but if we know we put everything into it, that’s all we can ask from our guys.”