The 2015 season certainly did not go according to plan for Josh Kotelnicki’s Marauders, but a 28-man recruiting class filled with talent should assure a bright future for the U-Mary football program.
"We are very excited about our 2017 Marauders football recruiting class," Kotelnicki said in a statement. "Our priority this season was defensive backs and running backs and we feel there are some impact players in this group.”
While the Marauders are collectively becoming a more experienced team, their secondary has entered somewhat of a rebuilding mode. Having lost multiple impact players on the back end of his defense, such as graduates Danielle Whitaker and Brandon Payne, Kotelnicki placed the utmost importance on bringing in a handful of defensive backs to reboot the unit with physical build and athletic gifts.
Kotelnicki does not expect to have a freshman defensive back in his opening weekend starting lineup, but the potential embedded in the seven-man class of coverage specialists leads the U-Mary coach to believe at least one step up into a contributing role during his first season on campus.
“Physical ability, intelligence level and what translates from high school,” he said regarding how players achieve impact roles as freshmen. “I’m confident with the kids we signed. I think one of them will show the physical tools and mental ability to contribute as a freshman.”
Kotelnicki also noted that his class of defensive backs may not be complete just yet, as the program is still working to bring in another talented athlete to supplement the unit.
“Defensive backs and running back,” he said. “[We strived for] one or two good players at each position and then additional depth.”
As noted, running back was also a primary emphasis in U-Mary’s recruiting process, as Kotelnicki’s offense requires depth and multidimensional talent in the backfield to execute an option scheme based out of the wishbone formation. Given the unique nature of this offensive style, however, recruiting difference-makers requires a keen eye for specific traits employed out of other schemes and patterns.
“[Slotbacks] run bubble screens, and those are also the same guys that catch pitches for us,” the U-Mary coach said. “A lot of positions use these traits in high school. [They have to be] fast, be able to block and catch, kind of in that order.”
In order to handle the diverse play-calling within his system, Kotelnicki added a trio of fullbacks and a trio of slotbacks, positional groups with similar basic objectives but considerably different in physical stature and athletic talent. Each of his newest fullbacks, for example, stand at roughly 6-feet tall and weigh in around 200 pounds as opposed to slotbacks, which are shorter in stature (5-foot-9) and weigh much less (170 pounds) but offer a more dynamic skill set based around explosiveness and lateral agility.
Despite returning three of his four wide receivers from last season, Kotelnicki also added a host of physically gifted outside pass-catchers to his arsenal. Among the foursome is former Century red-zone assassin Luke Little, a 6-foot-3, high-point specialist and a 2015 All-WDA performer in Mandan’s Jaden Andresen (6-foot-2).
“One of the foremost things is scoring touchdowns in the red zone,” Kotelnicki said. “We see a lot of man-to-man coverage on the perimeter so their size is important for creating mismatches. I don’t expect any of these guys to play as a freshman, so there isn’t really any pressure.
“They get to come in, learn the offense, develop and get their feet underneath them within our program.”
U-Mary also added depth at linebacker, both of its lines and at quarterback – a spot the Marauders struggled to stay healthy at in 2015. Brannon Flowers, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound quarterback from Las Vegas, Nevada is not expected to play during his first season, but Kotelnicki did not completely rule out the possibility.
“Our quarterback situation will have to be solved by someone on the roster,” he said. “I don’t expect Brannon to come in and play right away, but if he did, that would be outstanding."
Twenty-eight recruits ranging in talent, physical build and expected positional assignment, but they all tend to share common ground from a personal standpoint. Kotelnicki, as with most coaches, places an emphasis on intangible traits, and he is quick to notice players that stand out in ways beyond the gridiron.
“Intangibles is a major concern at every position,” he said. “The leadership part is very difficult because they may be leaders on their previous team, but they may not be on our team. I’m impressed to see a senior captain, and if he’s a captain as a junior that’s very impressive. Homecoming king nominee impresses me too because that shows people skills.”
A previously young cast of Marauders predicated on freshman starters is beginning to mature, and likely the greatest identifier is a more developmental approach to playing time.
Their time will come, however. And given the Marauder coach's confidence in his 2017 recruiting class, this day may come sooner rather than later for some.
The U-Mary men’s soccer recruiting class may not be very long, but it’s certainly filled with talent. Dave Cook, who has coached the Marauders since 2008, certainly took care of business on the local end of the spectrum, grabbing a star-studded quintet of Bismarck area athletes.
Cook’s most recent handful of recruits from Century (2), Legacy (2) and St. Mary’s. The Patriots, which finished 13-3-2 overall this past season en route to another state tournament appearance, are sending midfielder Keaton Boehm and forward Zack Jensen to the Marauders for next season.
Jensen, who led both Century and the West Region with 36 points (11 goals, 14 assists) this past season, combines awareness, speed and fundamentals to break down opposing defenses. He has shown a capacity to beat goalkeepers from inside the box with finesse, from distance with accuracy and placement or simply by putting his teammates in prime goal position, providing U-Mary with a definitive offensive playmaker.
He is joined by Keaton Boehm, a creative midfielder with the talent to open up opportunities on offense while holding down his position on the defensive end of the spectrum. Boehm is a primary example of the box score not telling the whole story, as he only notched one goal on the season but played an instrumental role in Century’s 10-0-2 West Region mark.
The Sabers are also sending a pair of athletes to the collegiate level, as midfielder Austin Ellingson and bricklayer goalkeeper Cole Svihovec are set to join the Marauders next year. Ellingson is a quick, finesse-styled player who wins with high positional intelligence and excellent ball placement.
Svihovec, the only goalkeeper on U-Mary’s 2017 recruiting list, provides a big body and more than enough athleticism to give opposing coaches fits. He was a stalwart in net for Legacy, keeping the Sabers in games with his great hands, body positioning and simply a visible talent for getting in the way of the ball.
Last but not least, Cook landed Saints center back Steven Hutzenbiler, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound playmaker who could play an Impact role immediately for the Marauders. Hutzenbiler combines speed, strength, short-area quickness and vision to register goals. He has the ability to move all around the field, as his scoring talent resembles that of a striker while also possessing the fitness to impact the game from start-to-finish as high-motor midfielder.
U-Mary’s soccer programs certainly appear to have bright futures, as Sarah Cook’s seven-woman 2017 class is loaded with potential as well. Cook, however, reached far beyond North Dakota’s borders for her haul of recruits while also making sure to nab premier players from the local area as well.
Hannah Richter, a lethal forward from Century, is the lone West Region addition to the Marauders, but her clear-cut scoring ability makes her a huge addition for U-Mary. As a junior, Richter paced the 2016 state champion Patriots with 31 points (12 goals, 7 assists) including the lone goal in Century’s 1-0 shutout victory over Fargo Davies in the championship. Her ability to find the back of the net with regularity gives Richter the potential to be a future foundation piece for Cook’s Marauders.
The other North Dakota state soccer alum joining U-Mary is Fargo Davies’ Cory Duffield, a 5-foot-3 technician on the defensive side of the ball. Duffield was an all-conference selection as a junior and played a primary role in holding Richter and the high-scoring Patriots (54 goals) to just one goal during the state title game. While she lacks the size of more physical defenders, Duffield’s tenacity and high motor are more than enough to make a difference on the defense.
U-Mary also hauled a pair of Montana-based athletes, 5-foot-8 defender Shawnae Inama and 5-foot-7 midfielder Alexa Tobert, a striker in Idaho native Megan Lowery (5-foot-11), a decorated midfielder in Minnesotan Averi Dahlberg and standout Wyoming-based defender Kaitlyn Foster.