The Century Patriots had a tale of two halves in 2022, a slow start, and then a flurry of wins to get them back to the Dakota Bowl, but it’s how they build off that momentum that will be key in 2023.
It’s a familiar spot the Patriots find themselves in, entering a new year after an appearance on the biggest stage North Dakota high school football has to offer. There’s momentum for Century entering week one of practice, but players and coaches know it’s important to learn from last year’s mistakes.
“I’m not going to say that talent-wise, we were behind a lot of the teams, but certainly the frustration and the inability to maybe capitalize on some things was critical,” says head coach Ron Wingenbach. “And whether that would be pointed at me or the players, that doesn’t matter, we just as a staff and as a team have got to do a better job.”
The team loses 32 seniors from a year ago, a new crop of players that are making the most of these first few practices.
“I think the tone we set is always go the extra mile,” says Gavin Lill. “Never cut anything short. Shortcuts are what get you kicked out of the playoffs or not make the playoffs. I think going the extra mile is what is going to take us to the next level.”
Players say the athletism is off the charts on this roster, and some are taking advantage of the new opportunity to lead on the gridiron.
“It really does,” says Lill. “I feel like it feels so much different because this year, I can really set the tone. As a junior, sophomore, (or) freshman, you can’t really set the tone, because the seniors are trying to make a good culture. But I feel like I can just make our guys accountable and really show what we can be capable of.”
Gavin Lill will be one of the bright spots for the Patriots, a player with numerous offers at the next level.
“He’s so diverse in both offense and defense and we can move him around and he’s smart enough to comprehend everything,” says Wingenbach. “We’re going to have to do that again. Utilize his skills, especially in the open field.”
As for the excitement level of a new season, it’s also off the charts.
“I’m an 11,” says Gavin Lill. “I’m not a one, I’m not a ten. I’m an 11. I’m super excited. I feel like we just got done with football season. That’s how awesome this summer has been but I’m ready to get back at it.”