Lions begin practice with experience, numbers

Thirty-eight players showed up to Bishop Ryan High School on Wednesday for the first practice of the season.

That may be the ultimate testament to what Brad Borkhuis has accomplished in his first three years as the Lions’ head football coach.

After taking over a struggling program in 2010, Ryan labored through a 3-6 season with barely two dozen players. Then a 6-4 campaign in 2011 and a 7-3 record in 2012. The latter two seasons ended in the state playoffs – a stage the Lions rarely reached in the 10 years prior to Borkhuis’ takeover.

“Being able to have this many guys out is amazing,” senior lineman Mason Kramer said. “You start making the playoffs a couple years in a row and more kids want to come out.”

The Lions, who return nine starters on both sides of the ball, trained extensively this summer in hopes of defending their Class AA West Region title.

“We’ve done a couple different camps – NDSU, a local camp (Bishop Ryan Football Camp),” Borkhuis said. “And then we put them through an extremely intense, collegiate-style weight program this summer. Their attendance was perfect.”

Junior wide receiver and linebacker Jared Will said the four-days-a-week training regimen went as follows: Wake up and lift, complete an agility workout and head out to the field for conditioning. Receivers also ran routes for the quarterbacks.

Will welcomed the first day of practice.

“After a summer full of lifting and conditioning and all that, it’s nice to just get on the field and be playing football again,” Will said.

Ryan spent its first day of practice in shells – helmets, shoulder pads and shorts – engaging in non-contact drills and walk-throughs. It’s an opportunity for fresh faces to pause and ask questions, Borkhuis said.

“In our offense and defense, we have a lot of verbal calls that we want to clarify for them,” Borkhuis said, “and allow them to take the alignment and the assignment portion of football and really just get a chance to soak it in.”

Kramer said the underclassmen have plenty to offer, and Will noted that some youngsters may fight for playing time on the experienced roster.

“I think there are some younger kids that have really bought in and worked hard all summer,” Will said. “We have some good athletes that can definitely step up and bring even more to the team.”

Soon the Lions will strap on full pads and start live hitting – something they’ve waited nine months to resume.

And two weeks from Friday, lights will illuminate the green FieldTurf at Herb Parker Stadium and a teed-up football will take flight to kick off Ryan’s season.

It’s the moment Borkhuis has been waiting for.

“This is my fourth year coaching, so this is my first class I’ve brought through the entire program,” he said. “They understand everything. We’ve got a great opportunity this year. We won the region last year, we have a lot of high expectations this year.”

Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.