Jerry Danelson is in his 15th year with the Minot High School football program. He spent the previous eight seasons under his current title, defensive coordinator, and believes this year's linebacking corps has the potential to be his best yet.
The Magicians return a deep group, including three juniors that started as sophomores. Zach Danelson, the coach's son, earned second-team all-state honors in 2012 as he filled in for inside linebacker Kolton Larson following a season-ending foot injury.
"Some of us were a little inexperienced, but did help out and kind of molded together fine," junior Zach Danelson said. "Having Kolton back makes it a lot better for all of us. It's another player on the defense who can make plays."
Minot High School senior linebacker Kolton Larson pushes the sled at Magic City Campus. The two-time first-team all-state selection returns to inside
linebacker after missing the majority of his junior season with a foot injury.
Larson represents more than just another player. He was a first-team selection as a freshman and sophomore and instantly bolsters the strength of the 3-5 formation the Magicians favor.
"(Larson's) such a leader and he's been with me for so long," Jerry Danelson said. "He's been there for four years. He knows what I want. Last year, with Zach, we had a sophomore running our defense once Kolton (got hurt), so it's nice now where we have that depth. If Kolton needs to take a break, I know I have a kid that can take the defense over."
Jerry Danelson was surprised by how well his son played as a sophomore, but more because of the youngster's demeanor and youth.
MHS Depth Chart
1. Garrett PicardJr.5-11181
2. Brady LampertSr.5-11215
1. Zach DanelsonJr.5-10195
2. Karter GorneyJr.5-11175
1. Kolton LarsonSr.6-2202
2. Zach DanelsonJr.5-10195
1. Andrew ArnoldSr.6-2205
2. Karter GorneyJr.5-11175
1. Alex MackJr.5-11195
2. Brady LampertSr.5-11215.
Also playing LB: Jake Bloms, Hunter Duttenhefer, Braden Rotta
"Being my son, I knew he'd be physical and, actually, he's a quiet kid, so yeah, it was nice to see him step up and be a leader for us," the coach said. "I think his physicalness and tackling are his two strengths."
Larson and Zach Danelson are likely to be joined inside by senior Andrew Arnold. Juniors Garrett Picard and Alex Mack return to their starting roles on the outside. Jerry Danelson said Mack is as athletic as anyone on the team. Four of the five prospective starting linebackers weigh 195 pounds or more.
"We had four sophomores running around for us (last year), but when you can run around and be athletic, you know, you can play this game and they're only gonna get better," Jerry Danelson said.
Larson will make most of the calls and adjustments. The Division I hopeful suffered through a Lisfranc injury - bone displacement in his left foot - but appears to have recovered well from offseason surgery.
"A couple of camps this summer definitely helped getting back into the game of football and padding up and contact and stuff," Larson said, "so that definitely gave a little extra something coming into camp."
Larson also draws confidence in the team's depth. Running backs Brady Lampert and Karter Gorney are expected to see time and junior Braden Lach is moving from linebacker to the defensive line.
"(Lach has) done a lot of work in the offseason," Larson said. "He's a strong kid. He's definitely gonna help us from a linebacker standpoint getting the linemen on with us. And I mean, if he can go up there and hold a double team that frees us up to make plays."
The primary goal for the defense is stopping the run. Jerry Danelson is confident that his group of linebackers can thrive against the run because of their overall athleticism and intelligence.
"Kolton and Zach, they can make our calls," he said. "They can make their calls without me being out making 'em for them. They've done it enough now."
The Magicians get their first test when they scrimmage area teams at 5 p.m. today at Herb Parker Stadium.
Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.
Editor's note: This is part four of an eight-part series breaking down each unit of the Minot High School football team. Defensive backs will be featured in Wednesday's paper.