August 19, 2018 10:50 PM
(ABC 6 News) – Under the direction of head coach Ben Halder, the Byron Bears football team has shown strides as a program.
Over the last two seasons, the Bears have finished 6-4 both years—the first time the program has put together two consecutive winning seasons since 2011-2012.
Last season’s 2017 6-4 season could’ve been better—three of their four losses were by seven points or less, including their season-ending 28-21 loss in the Section 1AAA semifinals versus P-E-M, so the Bears know they have to find the mentality to win those close games.
"I think it comes down to trust and confidence,” Halder, who is entering his third season as the Byron head coach, said. “I think our kids had a really good year in the weight room. We had about 50 kids in the weight room every day, so I think they're going to be more confident with their strength and things like that, and I think it is experience too, so the hope is that the experience will help that too."
“We need to finish the game,” Bears senior wide receiver and outside linebacker Conner Strain said. “We can’t come out flat and stay full-throttle. Those close games we lost were hard because we were right there. Learning how to get back from those and work hard will help us finish those games out.”
The Bears won’t be the biggest bunch of football players on the gridiron this season, but the Halder said they’re an athletic team.
“I like our athleticism and our senior leadership,” Halder said. “We have a lot of good athletes all over.”
According to Halder, the Bears will return close to seven starters on both sides of the football in 2018—but this year’s team is filled with players with something to prove.
Senior quarterback Caleb Christenson will take Minnesota State University, Mankato commit Michael Coble’s spot under center.
“With (Coble) sometimes, there was some ad-libbing, which is great, but it drives you wild as a coach as well sometimes,” Halder said. “I think Caleb will be able to read the defense, he’ll be able to read what we’re getting, make some adjustments and checks, and he’s athletic.”
Behind the Bears’ small and athletic offensive line, junior Ben Stienessen will see plenty of carries in 2018—as a sophomore, Stienessen rushed for more than 900 yards in ten games.
Through the air, Christenson’s top targets on offense will likely be senior wide receivers Luke Blazing and Strain, who will both fill the voids left by graduated receivers Bjorn Knutson and Luke Barth.
Strain, who is also one of the Bears’ four team captains (Christenson, Blazing, and offensive and defensive lineman Will Holz are the other three captains), and an outside linebacker on defense, will play the 2018 season with meaning—Strain missed all but two games in 2017 after he tore his LCL in his right knee.
“It was hard (sitting out),” Strain said. “I didn't like sitting there watching, I wanted to be out there. It helped seeing things from a coach’s perspective, but it means a lot (to be back out here). I'm glad I can be out here; get a lot of work here with these guys, with my friends. I understand how lucky I am to be out here and with my friends and play this awesome game."
The Bears open the 2018 season in Eyota against Dover-Eyota on Friday, August 31.
Updated: August 19, 2018 10:50 PM
Created: August 14, 2018 08:26 PM
Copyright 2018 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company