When a young Bob Hyland was making a name for himself as an offensive guard on the North Dakota State University football team, he realized something.
As a smallish 225-pound lineman, he simply couldn’t make mistakes.
For more than 40 years, it’s a lesson he has instilled in every lineman, big and small, that has gotten in a three-point stance for the St. Mary’s Springs football team. It’s the reason few teams can ever outhit or outmaneuver a Springs offensive line and consequently the reason the Ledgers are chasing a 12th state championship.
“I learned a position and because of my size I could not afford to make errors,” Hyland said. “And that’s exactly how I feel about it. If you don’t make errors, you take the right angles and don’t make errors, you’re going to do well.”
Hyland no longer coaches the offensive line, however. Instead that’s left to Kurt Krueger, a former Springs lineman himself, who now preaches the same fundamentals banged into the head of so many players that have hit a blocking sled on the Ledge.
“I really think it goes back to the coaches,” junior guard Sam Schrauth said. “I give a lot of credit to our coach Kurt Krueger teaching us the fundamentals — getting our heads on the right side and getting to the linebackers.”
Senior tackle Patrick Soldner emphasized the demands the coaching staff has during the offseason keeping the entire roster active and getting bigger, faster and better.
This year’s offensive line falls into the same category of so many Springs teams of the past, despite the fact that only Soldner and Schrauth are returning starters.
Hyland thought before the season that this year’s group may be even better than last year’s state championship unit. And so far that’s bore out, even if the players aren’t content with where they’re at.
“I do think we have a better offensive line, but we should be further than where we’re at,” Soldner said. “With only two back from last year we’re still working as a unit.
“I wouldn’t say there’s one outstanding person, but the line as a whole is good.”
The group had a bit of a hiccup last week against Manawa. The Ledgers finished with almost 200 yards rushing but that was mostly because of a handful of big plays by running backs Darin Ward and Ike Floyd. But the two backs and QB Evan Henderson were stopped for three or fewer yards 20 times.
“I think last week against Manawa we were just missing a few assignments, so it was tough to block,” Schrauth said. “But there was no excuse for the way we were blocking. We have to be better.”
And they usually are. The starting five includes a junior trio of center Tony Schmitz, Schrauth, and tackle Andrew Riehl, and seniors Soldner and guard Tanner Good.
All five are 200 pounds or heavier and Schrauth measures 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, is getting some interest from Big Ten schools already, and might be the latest in a line of all-state Springs linemen.
But this week will be a serious test of that size and skill against a Shiocton team that has only allowed 52 points and an average of 87 rushing yards per game.
“I believe to beat Shiocton we’re going to have to stay on our assignments,” Soldner said, “be smarter out there.”