Devin Schirado decided as a ninth-grader that football was not for him.
Then, last year, Leighton Talmadge made Schirado reconsider - by brute force.
"I didn't play football as a sophomore. My sophomore year I just didn't think I'd be a good football player, and I focused on basketball," said Schirado, Bismarck High's top receiver. "Leighton Talmadge picked me up in the wrestling room one day and brought me up to the football meeting."
Thus resumed the football career of Schirado, a three-sport standout who has become one of the state's top wide receivers. He's third in the West Region with 26 catches for 544 yards and seven touchdowns.
Schirado, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound senior, will be one of the most explosive offensive players on the field in tonight's state Class AAA semifinal at the Community Bowl. The Demons take on Mandan at 7:30 p.m.
Their game follows a 4:30 semifinal between Minot and Century. Bismarck (9-1), Century (9-1), Mandan (9-1) and Minot (7-3) were ranked first through fourth, respectively, in the final statewide AAA poll.
Mandan handed Bismarck its only loss, 20-19, on Oct. 7. Century downed Mandan 27-12 on Oct. 13 and Bismarck spilled Century 27-19 on Sept. 16. Minot's only losses were to the regional tri-champions.
Schirado said the lesson he learned in the loss to Mandan was simple. "I learned to play every down, and we can't go into the game being afraid to lose. We have to play with confidence like it's any other game. We can't come in nervous. We have to come in excited and ready to play."
Odds are Bismarck will play tonight without four players who have either started or played regularly.
Tailback Layne Johs missed Bismarck's quarterfinal blowout of Fargo Davies with back spasms. The problem has not subsided, making Johs a probable scratch, according to BHS head coach Mark Gibson. Johs is the No. 2 rusher in the West Region with 1,202 yards.
The rest of the damage is on the defensive side of the ball. Senior defensive lineman Jared Haug was dismissed from the team prior to the Davies game for a training violation. Zac Scalzo, a sophomore defensive lineman, is out with a knee injury and Jordan Kuntz, a junior linebacker and lineman, is shelved with an ankle injury.
Sophomore Ricky Purtle rushed for 175 yards and three TDs on 19 carries last week in Johs' stead. He's picked up 543 yards on the season.
Schirado said before the injury bug bit, the Demons were playing some of their best football of the season. He said a graph of Bismarck's season would show steady improvement through six weeks, a slight dip for the Mandan game and an upward spike for the last three games.
BHS has scored 152 points in recent wins over Minot, Williston and Davies while surrendering six touchdowns.
"I think we're back to where we were except for all the injuries," Schirado said.
"We can't dwell on the fact that Layne Johs won't be playing or Zac Scalzo won't be playing," he added. "... We've just got to go out, give it our all and play BHS football and we should be fine."
Schirado is a virtual 12-month-a-year athlete. He's a six-time state placer in the jumps and has contributed to three state team track titles. In basketball he was a bit player on Bismarck's 2010 state championship team and started for last season's state runner-up team.
He has no championship in football, however. Last fall the Demons finished second to Fargo South. Now, as a senior, time is running out.
"As a junior I knew I had another year. Now this could be my last shot and I would really like to win a state championship in everything I do," he said.
As it turned out, Schirado says he owes Talmadge a lot for carting him into the football meeting.
"I'm thankful Leighton did that because right now football is my favorite sport," he said.
Gibson said Schirado is essentially a gift.
"We had pretty much given up on getting him," the coach said.
As Gibson looks back on the first encounter with Mandan, he's amazed the Demons kept the final margin to a point.
"The bottom line is we didn't play as well as the score indicated," Gibson said. "... They beat us and they beat us soundly. Their seniors are as good as you're going to get."
The most prominent of those seniors are: Seth Westby, the region's top rusher; Devin Coyle, the top dog in passing and total offense; and Aaron Janz, No. 1 in receiving.
In Gibson's mind, the way to make up the difference is via takeaways.
"We have to find some way to make them turn the ball over. If they play mistake-free they'll win," Gibson said.
The Demons are the West Region's best in the giveaway-takeaway business. They've turned the ball over seven times and taken it away 29 times for a plus-22 rating. Mandan has a plus-20, Century a plus-10 and Minot a plus-4.