Tanner Purintun lived Linton-Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock football at its best up close and personal.

The Lions’ first-year head coach is focused on getting his alma mater back on top.

So far, so good for the former Linton-HMB multi-sport standout, who has the Lions off to a 3-0 start.

“I knew they kind of had struggled last year, so my main priority was establishing a strong culture,” Purintun said. “I felt like if we established a culture we would have success.”

Purintun, 25, was the Lions’ quarterback when they went to the 9-man title game in 2012 under longtime coach Dan Imdieke. For the past four years, he served as an assistant coach for the Bismarck High Demons.

“We want to be the toughest football team,” Purintun said. “At BHS, it always felt like they were the toughest team. Even if they weren’t the most talented team, they were going to out-tough teams. That’s what we’re trying to establish here.”

The early returns are promising. In their 3-0 start, the Lions have outscored their opponents by 65 points.

“It’s been encouraging so far,” Purintun said. “I think we’ve improved and done some good things, but we still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Some of that improvement will come with the Lions having their top players in their proper positions. In their first two wins, all-region quarterback Lucas Schumacher was playing tight end due to a broken thumb. Schumacher toughed it out and still played – wearing a club over the thumb. Back playing QB last Friday, Schumacher accounted for five touchdowns – two passing – in a 34-14 victory over Kidder County in a key Region 4 showdown.

“We were really one dimensional the first two games. In the first game against South Border we ran 44 times and passed six times,” Purintun said. “Having Lucas back really helped against Kidder County. I thought that was a statement win against a good team."

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Schumacher threw for 206 yards in the Lions’ win over the Wolves with 130 of those yards going to Chandler Nagel. Purintun had high praise for Nagel, who played QB the first two games and piled up 350 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

“(Chandler) is a very elite receiver. He’s one of the best in the state at any level, in my opinion,” Purintun.

Nagel and fellow senior Paul McCrory give the Lions two top-notch receivers.

Junior Trey Jacob is the Lions’ top tailback, but the ground game remains a work in progress.

“We have a whole new offensive line, but they’re getting better each week,” Purintun said.

Defensively, Schumacher, Nagel and McCrory get high marks from Purintun in pass coverage and coming up against the run. Jacobs and senior Jaden Bosch – back from a knee injury – hold down the linebacker level, while senior Quinn Roemmich anchors the D-line.

The Lions host Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter on Friday. The Imperials are off to an uncharacteristically slow 1-2 start. The following week, Linton-HMB travels to fellow unbeaten Beach (3-0).

Playing important games is exactly where Purintun expects his team to be.

“To be honest I like having expectations. When I was playing, it felt like Linton as a community thrived on having high expectations and having a target on our back,” Purintun said. “We’re trying to get those expectations back to where they belong.”

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Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com