BISMARCK — Only bragging rights were on the line Tuesday morning.
A mix of Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin football players and local children split into two groups and ran end zone plays just a short jog away from the Blue Devils’ Payton-Moss Field.
More aptly, the kids competed while the high-schoolers called the plays and instructed their young pupils.
Though you’d assume the end results counted toward BHRA’s fall 2021 record, considering how much some of the Blue Devils became immersed in those outcomes.
“It’s everything,” senior quarterback/defensive back Dawson Dodd said. “It’s just a culture.”
“Building the culture, just with the little kids and going into the weight room,” added junior split end/free safety Mason Hackman, “hopefully it’ll all transfer onto the field.”
The News-Gazette’s preseason No. 7 team thrives, in part, because of its players’ consistently-competitive nature.
This especially shows when 15th-year coach Mark Dodd’s crew faces Vermilion Valley Conference opponents. BHRA swept four league foes during its spring 2021 season by a combined 171-21 margin. The Blue Devils’ last conference loss occurred on Oct. 5, 2018, when visiting Oakwood prevailed 42-33.
VVC football is expanding this coming season to include Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence and Watseka — within the newly-formed Vermilion Valley Conference Football Alliance — so that dominance won’t be easy for BHRA to maintain.
It doesn’t mean the Blue Devils can’t try.
“We go into every season, our number one goal is to win the VVC,” Mark Dodd said. “That stuff is important to our kids because we’ve had a lot of success. How do you one-up the teams from the past? How do you make your team special? And for this team, winning the VVC is obviously very, very important. (As is) making the playoffs, and then doing the other thing that we really have not been able to do: make that run into the semifinals.”
Indeed, BHRA hasn’t missed the IHSA postseason since 2008 but has hit a frustrating ceiling in recent years. Each of the Blue Devils’ last five playoff runs has concluded in exactly the second round.
Does the fall 2021 BHRA roster have what it takes to reverse that trend?
Though the Blue Devils graduated 10 seniors from their spring 2021 lineup — including N-G All-Area first-team linebacker Eric Watson and second-team defensive lineman Nathan Mikalik — they’ll be returning a significant chunk of talent from the group that finished 5-1 earlier this year.
“It gave us a bunch of experience that I think we needed, and I’m sure it will help us out a lot,” said Dawson Dodd, a reigning All-Area first-team quarterback. “I’ll tell you right now, personally, I wouldn’t be even remotely close to where I am right now (without the spring season).”
Even BHRA’s one loss may prove mightily beneficial when the Blue Devils begin their upcoming campaign with an Aug. 27 home game against Clifton Central.
Mark Dodd’s bunch began its most unusual schedule with a visit to Maroa-Forsyth, a team that has won two state championships and qualified for eight state final games since 2006.
BHRA fell behind 28-0 in the first half but shut out the Trojans after intermission and rallied to a 28-19 outcome.
“Being able to compete with them showed us we can compete with anyone in the state,” Hackman said.
“Aside from getting a win, we got everything we needed to get out of that game,” Mark Dodd added. “I don’t regret it a bit. I would do it again in a heartbeat, because those are the types of teams you’re going to have to play and beat in Week 10, 11, 12 and so on.”
As far as players to watch moving forward, Dawson Dodd threw for nearly 700 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for more than 270 yards and three scores as a junior. The 6-foot-3 Hackman caught 22 passes for 248 yards and seven touchdowns in the spring.
Senior Rhett Harper and junior Michael Hackman will gobble up backfield repetitions and plunge through an offensive line that returns seniors Jace Waterman, Jakob Bozarth and Cameron Watson and juniors Jacob Hall and Hunter Wilson. Senior Tucker Schultz also is being converted from running back to guard after dealing with an injury earlier this year.
“We’ve got the kids. We’ve got the size. We’ve just got to get them in the right spots and get them taught the right things,” Mark Dodd said. “Having Dawson and Mason coming back, to me, doesn’t make passing the ball a risky thing. ... I’m a ground-and-pound kind of coach, but you also have to adjust and go with where the talent is.”
Mark Dodd said his defense will be fueled by many of the same athletes who drive the offense. He also has around 20 freshmen flooding into the program and has been impressed by their offseason workout attendance, though the elder Dodd isn’t keen to toss them into the varsity fire unless absolutely necessary.
“We’ve got really experienced cornerbacks and free safeties playing since freshman year, and our line’s looking good, too,” Mason Hackman said. “With our experience on the defensive side of the ball, we should be really good.”
BHRA will enter into training camp time beginning next week, giving Mark Dodd and his staff an even better feel for what this group can accomplish in the coming months.
One thing he’s certain of is that getting to play in March and April, after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the loss of a fall 2020 season, had a critical impact on his returning athletes.
“It was vital. ... If we wouldn’t have been able to play at all, that would’ve been devastating,” Mark Dodd said. “Now those kids have at least some varsity experience — and successful varsity experience, and I think that’s important, as well.”
What you need to know about Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin football before coach Mark Dodd’s Blue Devils kick off their fall season on Aug. 27 at home against Clifton Central:
The Blue Devils’ nine-game slate this fall:
DATE OPPONENT TIME RESULT
Aug. 27 vs. Clifton Central 7 p.m.
Sept. 3 at Dwight 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Watseka 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 vs. Momence 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Oakwood 1 p.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Salt Fork 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Georgetown-RF 1 p.m.
Oct. 15 at Westville 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 vs. Hoopeston Area/A-P 7 p.m.
The Blue Devils’ last nine seasons:
SEASON RECORD COACH
2021 5-1 Mark Dodd
2019 9-2 Mark Dodd
2018 9-2 Mark Dodd
2017 7-4 Mark Dodd
2016 8-3 Mark Dodd
2015 9-2 Mark Dodd
2014 10-2 Mark Dodd
2013 9-1 Mark Dodd
2012 10-1 Mark Dodd
THE POSTSEASON PICTURE
The Blue Devils’ last nine playoff appearances:
YEAR CLASS RESULT
2019 2A Second round
2018 2A Second round
2017 2A Second round
2016 2A Second round
2015 2A Second round
2014 1A Quarterfinals
2013 2A First round
2012 2A Second round
2011 2A Second round
The last nine BHRA-Salt Fork games:
2021 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 41-0
2019 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 50-0
2018 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 23-21
2017 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 35-21
2016 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 21-7
2015 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 38-31
2014 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 47-14
2013 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 28-25
2012 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 18-0