Eggl shining under center for Lions

If you’re a Bishop Ryan receiver, keep your head on a swivel.

If you’re just about to be open, a tightly spiraled ball is probably already on the way.

Ryan wideout Jared Will discovered as much at the Lions’ practice Thursday.

The lanky junior ran a 10-yard hitch route, and just as he spun his head around, the pigskin arrived. Senior quarterback Austin Eggl put it on the money for a quick completion.

“The time we’ve put in all year and this summer has really showed up,” Will said. “Passing the ball, we’ve been efficient with that and the timing has been good so far.”

Expect more of those plays when top-ranked Ryan (3-0, 1-0 West Region) hosts Dickinson Trinity (0-3, 0-1) at 4 p.m. today.

In his third year as starter, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Eggl has a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t, not to mention when and where to throw the ball.

Now, he is slowly but surely earning play-calling responsibility. He calls it “getting the keys to the kingdom.”

“It’s always nice when you have freedom,” Eggl said. “That’s every quarterback’s dream. It’s nice to be granted a little bit of free rein out there.”

Said Ryan coach Brad Borkhuis: “We’ll give him that in little leashes. Then as he earns that respect, that responsibility, he gets more and more of it.”

Last Friday in a 41-12 win at Turtle Mountain, Eggl called the Lions’ opening drive and capped it by scampering for a 25-yard touchdown. He threw for the next three scores before yielding quarterback duties to junior backup Tanner Sanders in the second quarter.

“It’s a cool experience,” Eggl said of single-handedly calling plays. “It’s something that you don’t really ever hear a lot of college quarterbacks get to do, so I definitely feel honored for that.”

It’s an experience that comes with trust and dissolves with mental mistakes.

During his second-team all-state campaign last year, Eggl occasionally called plays, but not to this extent. He’s made great strides since his junior season. He’s more calm. He’s smarter. He’s older.

“I would say it is a maturity of his energy,” Borkhuis said. “The problem last year that he had was he’d see that possible big bomb and he’d want to go for the glory on that. Now he’s really understanding that by taking the short stuff, he’s allowing that long stuff to create much easier.”

That recipe has boded well in 2013.

Eggl has completed 28 of 43 passes for 486 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions. That’s in about seven quarters of work, as Ryan’s opener against Velva lasted barely one quarter due to lightning and Eggl mostly rested last week with the Lions comfortably ahead of Turtle Mountain.

The senior signal-caller’s completion rate (65 percent) is up 11 percent from last year, and he’s also carried 29 times for 215 yards and two scores.

“I have a better understanding of the offense and what defenses are trying to do, what they’re trying to take away,” said Eggl, who’s received interest from Minot State University, Augustana College (S.D.) and College of St. Scholastica (Minn.). “I’ve been able to get a lot better presnap reads on things and make the right play more.”

With Trinity in town, Eggl’s play-calling privilege will likely be extended past the first drive.

The Titans lost 22 seniors to graduation and return only one starter from last year, when they finished 5-4 and narrowly missed the playoffs.

Still, Borkhuis said the Lions are focused on improving to 4-0, not thinking ahead to No. 5 Watford City next week.

“(Trinity’s) record I don’t think shows what kind of team they have,” Borkhuis said. “When we bring it to a rivalry game, we have to ignore the records and whatever it is that people think about.”

The Titans’ double-wing offense is heavy on the run, which they hope will create opportunities on the outside for junior receivers Joe Mayer and Jace Kruger.

“We know that they like to run some ‘I’ (formation),” Will said. “They’ll run option out of that and they’ll run dive. They also can spread it out a little bit and run (two-wideout formations), kind of like we do.”

Ryan will rely on cornerbacks Nick Berentson and Brody Bosch to lock down Mayer and Kruger so it can blitz early and often.

Defensively, Trinity combines a 4-2 front with Cover 3 and man-to-man coverage.

Eggl said he expects ample opportunity to sling from the pocket – and make easy, smart passes, of course.

After all, he does want to maintain the keys to the kingdom.

“It’s been three years of working towards that,” he said.

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