‘Optimizing efficiency’

Based on the way Kolton Larson plays a violent sport like football in such a calculated fashion, his answer to the following question came as no surprise.

What does he plan to major in after graduating from Minot High School in the spring?

“Right now, I’m leaning toward industrial engineering and management,” Larson said Tuesday. “It’s a dual major thing. It’s basically about optimizing efficiency and stuff like that. It’s just something that interests me.”

Optimizing efficiency is what the senior inside linebacker and fullback does on nearly every play. Larson is a two-time all-state linebacker, but missed the majority of his junior season with a foot injury that required surgery. His return is playing a major role in a remarkable defensive run by the Magicians (6-0 overall, 3-0 West Region), who host Jamestown at 7 p.m. tonight at Duane Carlson Stadium.

MHS has three shutouts and gave up just a field goal in a 19-3 win over Dickinson last week. Larson, a sure tackler at the line and in the open field, has a team-high three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown in week three against Williston. He’s second on the team in tackles, tied for the lead in fumble recoveries (2) and has a sack and four tackles for loss.

“He wasn’t 100 percent at the beginning of the year and every week he seems to be running a little better, so we’re excited for him that he continues to get close to 100 percent,” MHS coach Barry Holmen said. “I think it’s showing in how he moves on the field, defensively. You gotta move a little bit to find those interceptions and he’s doing a real nice job for us blocking. We certainly haven’t given him the ball as much as we did in the past, but part of that is due to other weapons that have evolved and he’s a very selfless player.”

MHS is loaded with speed at the skill positions and Larson isn’t getting the routine carries he did as a sophomore. He’s averaging less than four carries per game, but is using a beefed-up torso to deliver crushing lead blocks.

“He relishes that role of being the lead blocker and he’ll take his turn when he gets it,” Holmen said. “It’s a big part of our offense. We’re trying to get the edge plenty and you gotta have a guy who can run well and then engage in open space and then swing his hips a little bit. It takes a special kid to be able to do that.”

With his foot in a boot, Larson spent much of last season and the offseason working on upper-body strength.

“I notice it a lot,” he said. “I haven’t gained a whole lot of weight since my last year, but I can tell strength-wise that definitely it’s helped and been a big factor in some of the early success this year.”

Larson is coming off a two-interception game against the Midgets and trucked a helpless opponent on one of the returns, but feeling comfortable on the field has taken time. He recorded a sack in the season opener against West Fargo, but was hampered with a calf strain in a cramp-filled night the following week at Davies. The pick-six against the Coyotes followed the next week.

“I can definitely tell at the beginning of the year, for the most part, I was a little slow,” Larson said, “but, again, at week seven I feel like I’m back to where I was and should be, need to be.

“It’s tough to be feeling 100 percent, especially in a sport like football where you’re getting physical contact every single day, day in day out, even in practice and especially in games.”

Junior linebacker Zach Danelson noticed less stress with the captain back to lead a talented group of young playmakers in the 3-5 defense.

“He’s just right back like he was before his injury,” Danelson said. “He’s athletic, explosive, ready to play.”

Larson is hoping college coaches see him the same way. He began receiving interest from North Dakota schools following his strong sophomore campaign, but knows missing his junior season likely stunted his profile.

“It’s gonna boil down to school first and foremost,” Larson said. “Four years of football is great, but there’s obviously more to life than just four years of college football, so first thing you look for is a degree and then go from there for football programs. That’s always the goal is to compete at the highest level you possibly can and I’m a real competitive guy, so obviously Division I is the main goal.”

Holmen expects the interest to be significant come season’s end.

“He can play somewhere and certainly he’ll get his looks from a variety of places,” Holmen said. “He’s gotta work that out here after about six more weeks, but right now we’re just focused on beating our next opponent and trying to improve our positioning for the playoffs.”

Focusing on the now goes without saying for Larson, a mature student who draws as much respect off the field as he does on. He declined to specify any favorite college programs and quickly switched the subject back to tonight’s game – one of at least two left for MHS fans to see the Magician excel at home.

Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.