From winless to a top ranking in their division, it’s the turnaround of a program that no one is talking about, until now. The Standing Rock Warriors are a team that won’t compete for a state title in Fargo, but that isn’t stopping this bunch from playing the best football of their lives.
Something special is brewing in Fort Yates, the autumn wind bringing a winning culture to a team not used to success, and it all stems from one thing for Head Coach Jake Luger.
“I wrote it down four times for all four quarters, heart,” says HC Jake Luger. “We were not used to playing with it. We used to give up right away and pack it in. These guys got it and they wear it on their sleeve.”
Luger took over this season with many of the same players a year ago, one that didn’t win a single game a year ago. The players taking ownership over their approach on the field.
“It was attitude, behavior, and work ethic and motivation,” says QB John Luger. “We weren’t promised a state championship but we were promised better and we also had to do our side of the bargain.”
The promise of something different from this new coaching staff led to an interest in football that Standing Rock hasn’t seen in years.
“I think we got a lot of new players that came out this year,” says QB Thane Beheler. “Working our tail off all summer. They’ve been working every single practice every day. Everyone’s coming to practice every day.”
“At practice, we push ourselves every day,” says C/NT Adam Eagleshield. “It’s honestly hard because a lot of people think we’re just good out of nowhere, but we worked for it all last season and last year.”
It’s more than just the play, it’s the community that has garnered the support behind this group, filling up the stands like never before.
“These seniors, they’ve been through it,” says Jake Luger. “They’ve been through some hard times with Jake and Helixo and Adam and Johnny. It’s been tough and they’ve fought through. And to give this feeling and this atmosphere to them is something else and I’m just happy to be able to do it.”
The last time Standing Rock had a winning season was over 30 years ago, back when Dave Luger was coaching, the dad to current head coach Jake Luger.
“You know, I lived right up the hill when he was coaching,” says Jake Luger. “Like these little kids out here, that was me when my dad had his practice. I was on the sidelines roaming through the big guys while they were stretching and working out.”
Jake is now coaching his son John, a generational revival that has been special for the Lugers’.
“It’s cool because we listened to his advise every time we go out to his house for dinner,” says Johnny Luger. “He gives us advice and tips. I kind of see it during football practices. And it works out just fine. We don’t need trick plays, fancy plays to win, just simple hardened, rough football.”
Standing Rock has no secrets when it comes to playing football, a team predicated on outworking their opponents.
“We’re going to move things around,” says Jake Luger. “We’re going to move guys around, keep you guys guessing. We’ve got two very good quarterbacks that we can switch in at will. The main game is ground and pound. We got a solid line. We’ll pull a receiver and go a big set and we’ll just beat you into submission and if that don’t work, we’re fast enough to spread you out and get you moving.”
The Warriors currently sit first in the All-Nations Class A division in South Dakota… a spot that could lead to home field in the playoffs, and potentially a trip to the Dakota Dome in Vermillion.
“It would mean the world to us,” says Eagleshield. “We’ve been through ups and downs, but the past three years we’ve been wanting it but we couldn’t get it together. So we’re hungry for this title, we want to go to the dome so bad.”
But more than that, these players want people to know that this is a program to be taken seriously, and maybe one day, playing for a title in the Fargodome.
“I want them to know that we’re not just a basketball school,” says John Luger. “We’re not what people think we are. We can do things just as good as other people can and we can be something. We have a shot here and these guys with a group of them coming in next year, I think they’ll do better.”
Standing Rock has just one game left on the schedule against undefeated Todd County-Mission before the All Nations Class A playoffs get underway a week later.