HOLMGREN: Larson, Kramer share top all-area honor

In between bites of chicken, the two young men most responsible for putting Minot back on the prep football map lauded each other with high praise for their accomplishments.

If you’d let them, they’d camp out at Buffalo Wings & Rings all day, reminiscing memorable hits and clutch plays. They’d trash talk their eating abilities, too.

“I know I could go close to 70 (wings in a sitting),” Bishop Ryan’s Mason Kramer said.

“I could keep up with him,” Minot High’s Kolton Larson countered.

Kramer and Larson, The Minot Daily News’ co-players of the year, have never went head-to-head in an eating contest. They never matched up on the field, either. It would’ve been a sight to see.

Could Kramer, a two-time first-team all-state selection in Class AA, have kept up with the big hogs from the larger schools?

“He’d have no problem at all (in Class AAA),” said Larson, a two-time first-team all-stater himself. “He’d be one of the best, if not the best, defensive linemen.”

Which team would have its way in an intracity contest?

“I think we could hang with ’em for a half, and in the second half they’d beat us up,” Kramer said, laughing.

The duo, named the Class AAA and AA senior athletes of the year, played major roles in advancing their teams to the state semifinals in the same year for the first time since 2007.

Kramer led ‘returning of the program’

Oftentimes I’d be stuck next to opposing coaches in the cramped press box at Herb Parker Stadium. Week after week, their dumbfounded looks grew more and more helpless. No one had an answer for Kramer. Especially Beulah.

The Miners, then ranked No. 5, boasted the state’s top rushing attack at 347 yards per game. Ryan limited their rushing output to 89 yards during a matchup in October.

Asked how the Lions did it, Beulah coach Jim Dooley said, “(They) put Mason Kramer in the middle. I mean, he’s a horse.”

Kramer, at 6-foot, 274-pounds, recorded a team-best 111.5 tackles this year, including 24 for a loss and three for sacks. He led the Lions to back-to-back West Region titles for the first time in school history and returned a once-struggling program to the state semifinals for the first time in six years.

The footprints of that success originated in 2010, during an offseason that followed a disappointing 3-5 campaign – the same offseason Brad Borkhuis took over as head coach.

“Freshman year there was five guys in the weight room all summer,” Kramer said. “My sophomore year there was probably 12. My junior year there was 20 and my senior year there was 35 – everyone on the team was in the weight room, running around, conditioning. Everybody was into it.”

The Lions’ results matched their offseason drive, steadily gaining momentum. Ryan went 3-5 in 2010 followed by 6-4, 7-3 and 10-1 records the next three years, all of which ended in the playoffs. Kramer’s senior season elapsed with a 24-17 loss to Wahpeton.

Along with a unified senior class that included all-area selections Austin Eggl, Brody Bosch and Nick Berentson, Kramer put a giant mark on Ryan football. Borkhuis said his legacy is “the returning of the program to its proper status.”

“Mason on the field was impressive, but Mason off the field was just as impressive, if not more,” the coach added. “For what we were building in a program, his contributions as a leader and a motivator to get the kids to do the right things was extremely strong. That really probably helped us just as much, if not more.”

Indeed he was impressive on the field; an unmatched physical presence that allowed Ryan to expand its game plans. He’s narrowed down his college options (in no particular order) to Bemidji State, Minnesota State-Moorhead, Minot State University, St. Cloud State and University of North Dakota and plans to make a decision in late-January.

He’ll fit in and make an impact anywhere, whether it be in Division I or Division II football. Larson, a longtime friend of Kramer, said he’s been a stud since day one.

“Even in fourth grade, he’s always been a monster on the field,” Larson said. “Bigger than everyone, faster than everyone. You knew from a young age that he was a standout kid that definitely can line up and be a difference-maker.”

Larson’s comeback a stellar one

Larson isn’t sure if his football-playing days are over yet. He plans to become an engineer. North Dakota State University and Minnesota Duluth have the top academic programs he’s considering, but there are opportunities to get an engineering degree elsewhere if football becomes a priority, he said.

“There’s definitely some decisions that I have to make,” he said. “That will come down to what I decide on my academic plans and then football will come after.”

If 2013 turns out to be the bookend to his career, he’ll end it on a major high note and as one of the top Magicians since the turn of the century.

Larson, 6-2, 210 pounds, posted team highs with 88 tackles, five interceptions and three sacks. He would’ve been a three-time all-state selection had he not missed his junior season due to a Lisfranc injury in his left foot.

“He does so much on the field,” Minot coach Barry Holmen said. “He’s been a presence pressuring quarterbacks, he led our team in interceptions, he’s turned the turnovers into points several times, he’s forced fumbles, recovered fumbles. He’s diverse and he regularly makes excellent plays.”

Larson’s fourth interception came in the Magicians’ win over then-No. 2 Century – their first victory over the Patriots since 2008. That last-second triumph guaranteed Minot a home playoff game for the first time in five years.

“Maybe not a personal favorite, but as far as importance, the interception versus Century on that first drive,” Larson said. “They drove it all the way down (54 yards) and an interception on the 1-yard line. That was huge for us, not necessarily personally, but as far as getting the ball back and stalling them out.”

His final interception, in a state-quarterfinal rout of Grand Forks Red River, takes the cake as his most memorable. He busted long runs twice in the first half, but was tripped up inside the 2-yard line both times. In the third quarter, he picked off all-state quarterback Chad Bartosh and ran it back 30 yards for a score.

“I didn’t find the end zone on offense,” Larson said. “They came around and I got an interception and returned it for six. That was kind of a nice thing for me … kind of rewarding for the work that I’ve done.”

He traded rushing duties for lead-blocking duties his senior year. His coach noted his team-first attitude and willingness to accept any role asked of him – the consummate example.

“I think he’s a special kid because he’s the kind of leader that you want in your locker room,” Holmen said. “He plays at a real high level. I think he’s earned the respect of every opposing coach that we’ve played against. He plays the game the right way and his teammates follow his lead and we’re a lot better team because Kolton ahs been part of our program all these years.”

All-area team notes

-Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn coach Tom Nesvold earned coach of the year honors for returning the Sioux to a second straight Dakota Bowl appearance.

W-N-G fell to a superb Cavalier squad, but its run to the title game is one of the most impressive on record. The Sioux knocked out No. 5 Grant County-Flasher, No. 2 TGU and No. 3 Shiloh Christian, in order, to reach the 9-man state championship.

-In any other year, W-N-G senior quarterback Hunter Braaten would be a sure lock for player of the year, and he received plenty of consideration this year. The 5-9, 160-pounder generated 3,788 all-purpose yards and rushed for 1,914.

As a safety he also led his team in tackles and interceptions, capping a brilliant career that ended with the 9-man senior athlete of the year award.

-Class A senior athlete of the year Austin Cieslak of Hazen headlines a group of five Bison on the all-area team. Seniors Nate Leintz, Briar Bornemann, Hunter Fears and junior Seth Kreil helped Hazen win a second straight state title.

-Minot also garnered five spots, with seniors Jacob Holmen and Tre Kinchen, junior Zach Danelson and sophomore Ben Bolinske joining the co-player of the year Larson.

-TGU senior Luke Bacon, a North Dakota State commit, and teammate Eli Luna made the list for a second straight year.

-Bolinske and W-N-G sophomore Dustin Weeks are the lone underclassmen.

Ryan Holmgren selected the all-area football team. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.