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The Douglas Patriots played well at the end of last year’s football season. Losing just three seniors, that has proven to be a momentum builder that has lasted throughout the summer into fall camp.

If things go well, the Patriots just might be saying, “why not us?”

“This is a group that nobody thought would make a lot of noise, but last year we kind of shocked some people,” said Douglas head coach Dan Maciejczak, whose team knocked off Yankton and then crushed Belle Fourche to close the regular season. “That kind of gave us a little extra momentum and push in the weight room this year. It got some kids out for football that normally wouldn’t play. We picked up a couple more kids that play basketball that want to be a part of this football team. That is huge around here."

A former Patriot player himself, they also have a coach who bleeds the Douglas High School colors of red, white and blue.

“I’m just excited to be able to coach these kids,” Maciejczak said. "They are a fun bunch of kids. I tell them the sky is the limit. We can do whatever their heart is set to this year.”

Douglas, 4-6 last season, opens the 2017 season on Friday at home against Huron (6 p.m.).

Although they did lose two talented players in Jerod Boswell and Branson Taylor, Maciejczak said the 18 players they have back have worked well together heading into the season.

“For us, it is getting that new senior leadership and getting our new kids to bond with our old kids and getting that problem solved every year that we solve, which is team unity at a very quick pace,” he said.

Senior offensively lineman and defensive tackle Seth Dikoff said they are ready to get going and finally start playing.

“We only lost three seniors, so there is a big group of us back,” Dikoff said. “We’re ready to go win and play hard. We have been playing together for a while, so we are ready to do it.”

Fellow senior, running back and linebacker Sheldon Wagner said it is all about playing hard and working hard.

“Everyone has to be on the same page; be at practice on time, and on game day giving it all that you have," Wagner said. “We have to go back to practice on Monday doing the same thing. We have to work hard and don’t give up. Win or lose, we still have to fight as a team.”

The Patriots need a quick start after losing three of four to open 2016. With the state changing the rules as far as multiple practices a day, Maciejczak said that previous routine allowed them to be together all day long, more so than practicing together.

“That kind of hurt us a little bit, but we found some ways through senior leadership and get them to do things outside of football and get that rolling,” he said. “Last year we started off a little slow before getting things going. We were pretty tough by the end of the season. If we can start out with a bang and keep rolling from that, I think we can be somebody to be reckoned with.”

On offense, the Patriots have some experience with senior Trevor Sorenson returning as the starting quarterback, with senior Jake Lorenzen, who didn’t play last season, and senior Daniel Hand.

“We have three very versatile quarterbacks and three very good quarterbacks, which we haven’t had here in a long time,” Maciejczak said. “You can also put Trevor on the side as a tailback. We also have Sheldon Wagner at tailback and Chance Sorensen on the slot. We seem to be always heavy at running back.”

Wagner said he has some big shoes to fill, with Taylor and Colton Hitschew (2015) two of the outstanding backs the program has produced in the last couple of years.

“It’s a big role. A lot of people look at the running back,” he said. “It all starts with the line. It’s the whole team. We’ve had some great backs. I just hope to do what they did for the team and Douglas as a school.”

The entire offensive line of seniors Timothy May, Michael Hendricks, Dikoff and Riley McMeekin, along with sophomore Jaiden Walton, returns.

“We’re not huge up front, but it is the same group that we had last year, but bigger and stronger,” Maciejczak said. “We’re at about 220 mark, instead of the 205 mark. We’ve seen what we can handle with the Harrisburgs and the Pierres, and we’re not outmatched.”

For the Patriots to be able to put some points on the board, they will have to throw the football. Maciejczak said they worked hard on the passing game in camp and in the summer months. While they had success, they still have to prove it in game situations.

“Can we handle the pressure? Can we do what we are trying to do and complete some passes?” he said. “It’s not like we have to throw the ball 20 times a game, we just have to complete 10-12 passes a game and help offset some of those defenses. Last year they were putting nine guys in a box.”

The loss of Boswell and Taylor on defense will also hurt. Boswell led the team and was an all-stater with 116 tackles. Maciejczak said they have a lot of players stepping in and playing some different spots

“We’re bouncing some kids around trying to figure out who can play outside backer instead of safety. Instead of a D-tackle, maybe a D-end,” he said. “That’s part of our meshing point as a team. I think all-in-all, we have great team unity, great kids. I think they love to play for each other. Come Friday, with a little bit of depth, filling in some different spots here or there, I think we will be okay.”

In Black Hills Conference play, Maciejczak said that St. Thomas More has to be up there once again. Spearfish had a good season and Hot Springs is always tough. He said Belle Fourche is an improving team.

“I don’t think anybody in our conference will be a walk in the park,” he said.

State runnerup Harrisburg is still one of the teams to beat and Maciejczak said that Yankton is going to be tough.

And what about his Patriots?

“I feel like if we can get rolling and get some wins on the road, play tough against Mitchell and against Pierre, why can’t we get in the mix, too?” he said.

Again, it all comes back to effort.

“We have to play hard and win,” Dikoff said.

Simple as that.

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.