A pair of seniors with Division I aspirations will lead the Minot High School special teams units this season.
Kicker Ben Love and long snapper Jacob Holmen are drawing interest from college programs because of strong performances at national showcases. Assessments on each player can be found at kohlskicking.com, which provides ESPN with national rankings of high school specialists. Kohl's Professional Camps, based out of Waukesha, Wisc., holds kicking, punting and snapping clinics around the country.
Holmen, the son of MHS coach Barry Holmen, is ranked 42nd nationally in the Class of 2014 and received 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Minot High School senior Ben Love kicks a field goal during Tuesday’s scrimmage at Herb Parker Stadium.
Love is listed as a 4-star kicker, outside of the top 100, but was unable to attend this summer's National Scholarship Camp and improve his stock because of a family obligation.
"Ben competed in a December 2012 Showcase Camp. He charted well in (field goals), but (kickoff) improvement will push him to the 4.5 level," the website says. "Shows good ball striking skills, needs to kick with more 'pop', if he can improve the height on his kicks he has some good skills upon which to build, solid rhythm and seems to be able to repeat his motion with some consistency, has a good foundation which (to) improve upon."
Love took that assessment seriously and focused on increasing his kickoff length in the offseason.
1. Ben Love Sr. 6-1 183
2. Braden Lach Jr. 5-9 198
1. Alex Yanosko Sr. 6-2 212
2. Ben Bolinske So. 5-11 161
1. Jacob Holmen Sr. 6-2 195
2. Braden Lach Jr. 5-9 198
1. Karter Gorney Jr. 5-11 175
1. Josh Pizzo Sr. 5-8 153
2. Kimani Benjamin Sr. 6-2 186
2. Tre Kinchen Sr. 5-8 140
"Went to some camps and the guys there told me I'd be higher-rated if I got better at kickoffs, so I really worked on those," said Love, who also plays soccer for MHS. "During the summer, I feel like I got better, like, five to 10 yards per kick. So, the other day I went out and kicked and I hit, like, 69 on average."
High school kickoffs are from the kicking team's 40-yard line. Love is likely to improve greatly on his 37-percent touchback efficiency if he keeps his average above 60 yards.
As a junior, Love was 6 of 7 on field goals with a long of 39 yards. With wind at his back, he estimates being able to connect from 55 yards. During Tuesday's scrimmages with area teams, Love connected on a 44-yard field goal with enough distance to clear the crossbar from about 50 yards.
"We're really blessed to have Ben back one more year," Barry Holmen said. "I think last year he was able to put it in the end zone for about one out of every three kicks, so a huge field-position advantage when he can do that."
Holmen believes the Magicians have a reasonable chance of adding three points on kicks as far as 45 yards.
Love's extra-point percentage should improve as well. He was 20 of 27 last year with five kicks blocked. Holmen said three kicks failed in one game following a change at placeholder because Kolton Larson suffered a season-ending injury. Senior quarterback Alex Yanosko mastered holding by the end of the season and will continue in that role.
Love said he's received interest from Division I and II schools in the Midwest. The University of North Dakota is his current favorite, citing an appreciation of the coaching staff and an ideal engineering program.
Jacob Holmen attended camps in Denver and Wisconsin this year and hopes to garner more interest following his senior campaign. The favorable rating by Kohl's won't hurt.
"If you're ranked on their stuff that's a nice little notch in the belt because (the Kohl's) reputation is on the line too," Barry Holmen said, "so they're not gonna throw up a ranking."
Yanosko will continue to handle the punting. He averaged 34.5 yards on 36 punts in 2012 and offers MHS an advantage if it elects to fake with a pass or run.
Barry Holmen said he might add some wrinkles to the return game with a roster loaded with speed. Junior Karter Gorney, the reigning state champion in the 100-meter dash, will be fielding kicks with fellow track state champion Josh Pizzo (400 relay).
Senior wide receivers Kimani Benjamin and Tre Kinchen, also standouts on the track, could be featured on returns as well.
"Certainly hopeful that maybe (with) a little extra time spent in the whole area that we can score more points in the return game," Holmen said.
Kinchen led the team with a kick return average of 15 yards in 2012. Senior Brady Lampert and graduate Cody Haugen shared the punt return duties. Lampert had the team's only return-game touchdown.
Haugen mishandled a punt in the closing minutes of a state quarterfinal loss to West Fargo and Holmen said the punt return unit remains a point of concern.
MHS opens the season against the Packers at 8 p.m. Friday at Duane Carlson Stadium.
Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.
Editor's note: This is the final part of an eight-part series breaking down each unit of the Minot High School football team. The other seven parts of the series can be found at minotdailynews.com.