Three yards and a cloud of dust remains the mantra of the Aitkin Gobblers football team, but it has added a twist.
This summer Aitkin head coach Scott Miller developed a 7-on-7 passing league with Pequot Lakes. The teams met every Friday to improve receivers' route running, quarterback's timing, defensive schemes and team chemistry.
For Miller, a football traditionalist who stresses the running game, the league was a success.
Aitkin Gobblers running back Pat Brophy secured the football in last year's 13-0 loss to the Crosby-Ironton Rangers. The teams open the season against each other 7 p.m. Thursday at John Davies Field in Crosby. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"It was great for team building, just to get the guys together to play football five or six times competitively," said the second-year coach. "It was nice to practice against someone else's defense, too. As much as I love my junior varsity and scout defense, we were able to get some different looks.
"We were able to talk to the kids right there on the field. It was incredibly beneficial."
Miller said his passing game and pass defense are light years ahead of where they were last year at this time.
"They loved it," said Miller. "We can work with the kids from the first week of summer until July 31. That last week I told them, 'I'm done. I can't work with you any more.' They asked me if they could do it if I'm not there. They were going to talk to the Pequot guys.
"They just wanted to keep doing it. A big reason was because they were having so much success with it."
C - Jake Schaefer
RG - Adam Gutzman
LG - Jaran Sharp
RT - Ryan Lund
LT - Ryan West
TE - Matt Edmundson
WR - Mitch Wood
WR - Matt Brady
QB - Wayne Ward
RB - Brandon Laffin
RB - Ryan Taggart
NG - Schaefer
DT - Lund
DT - West
DE - Edmundson
DE - Sharp
LB - Laffin
LB - Dan Koop
CB - Taggart
CB - Wood
SS - Andy Domben
FS - Brady
The Gobblers hope the summer success translates to a victory in the first regular-season game against archrival Crosby-Ironton 7 p.m. Thursday at John Davies Field in Crosby.
Along with confidence in the passing game, Aitkin also has nearly its entire team back from last year's 1-8 campaign.
"We're better at every position just because they're a year older," said Miller. "As far as passing at Crosby, we had our scrimmage up at Deer River last weekend. Chisholm and Deer River tried to play man-to-man on our receivers and we could have thrown every play.
"Jason Rikala is a stud receiver. He can fly. He runs great routes and has crazy hands."
Miller likes the catching ability of his tight ends and believes one of the many sophomores can fill Aitkin's other receiver spot.
But Aitkin is a run-oriented team. The three-man backfield of Kyle Mlynar, Pat Brophy and Dustin Voller worked on their strength and speed in the offseason. They'll run behind the Gobblers' offensive line spearheaded by senior center Sam Catlin (6-0, 210) and senior guards Mike Olson (6-0, 165) and Brandon Wilson (5-10, 190).
The addition of a confident passing game will only help the running game.
"You have to be able to adapt with your personnel," said Miller. "Until I get that 200-pound running back, my offensive philosophy has to adjust to what we have and who we have. The running game is what our offense is based on. We can pass the ball and it's going to make us more efficient. Instead of passing when we have to, we can pass when we want to.
"I don't see us passing the ball more than we did last year. It will just be more efficient."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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