Fantastic Voyage

Kittson County Central seniors took their lumps a few years ago, but are now enjoying success

by Bryan Zollman

If football teaches kids anything it is that one must not expect immediate rewards and should instead prepare to overcome hurdles and adversity during their journey to success.

Perhaps no team in the state knows that as well as Kittson County Central.

After going winless in 2020, the past two seasons have yielded much success thanks to a group of seniors who as sixth graders played eighth and ninth grade football to help field those teams.

Of course, during those formidable years, they took their lumps.

“We had some small classes in there and had these young guys coming up,” said KCC Head Coach Cory Waling. “A lot of kids played as freshmen and it was ugly. In 2020 our whole team was sophomores except for one senior. We took lump after lump.”

Then came last season. Through hard work, dedication and commitment, those freshmen and sophomores were now juniors. They were more physically mature, stronger, faster.

“Last year we said you have taken enough lumps,” said Waling. “Let’s turn it into something.”

The team went 10-3 and advanced to the 9-man state tournament before losing to eventual champion Leroy-Ostrander.

This year they are off to a 9-0 start after defeating Lake of the Woods 49-0 in their section opening playoff game on Oct. 25.

“Last year we didn’t have as big of expectations. This was always the year,” said Waling. “If things were building towards everything, this was the year we expected to play well and be competitive.”

The team is blessed with a combination of size and skill. Two seniors, Kaden Vig and Isaac Folland, are both Division I commits at the University of North Dakota. Folland is 6’4” and 330 pounds.

“His size and strength stand out,” said Waling. “It’s 9-man so it’s rare to get a guy his size. He is so physically strong.”

But it’s not just his size that makes him special.

“He’s also very agile for his size and fairly fast for a big guy,” Waling added. “He can get on a nose tackle, then a linebacker and then a safety. It’s neat to see that.”

Vig is another physical specimen at 6’6” and 235 pounds. He is a menacing defensive end and also plays tight end, providing essential blocking while also hauling in 13 catches for 420 yards and four touchdowns. He will play on the defensive side of the ball in college. He also punts for the Bearcats.

“He’s the fastest guy on our team,” said Waling. “He has the physical talent, is strong and is just a sponge, always learning. He’s got so much upside.”

With Folland up front and the likes of Vig,  and senior offensive guards Teddy Webster and Hogan Mortensen, senior running back Chisum Schmiedeberg has put up monster numbers from the backfield. He currently has 1,631 yards rushing, averaging 10.7 yards per carry. He has rushed for 3,105 yards in his career and now holds the record for rushing yards in the coop school’s history.

“Chisum sees the field so well,” said Waling. “As far as reading blocks and seeing the field, it’s crazy to watch.”

Waling said Schmiedeberg, at 5’8” and 155 pounds, is a very smart runner.

“Sometimes you have a back who can shed off a tackler or stiff arm a guy,” said Waling. “Chisum weaves and bobs, but sees the field so well he will drag a defender into a blocker. He is just so good.”

Waling stresses the importance of the senior group with guys like Webster, Mortensen, Andrew Knutson (LB/TE) and senior quarterback and three-year starter Braden Faken.

“He’s got a way about him,” said Waling of Faken. “He handles the ball and gets it where it needs to be. He’s a big part of what we do.”

Another big part of the team is the leadership of Waling. A native of nearby Grygla, Minn., he played some community college football in Thief River Falls before furthering his education at Bemidji State University. He has been coaching for 18 years, and is in his 13th as a head coach. He got his start in Lancaster where he still teaches social studies and coached as an assistant under longtime coach Brad Holmstead. The program eventually cooped with Hallock in 2008 becoming KCC where he served under longtime Hallock coach Terry Ogorek. In 2010 he became head coach. 

“My first six years of coaching I had two hall of fame coaches to watch and be a part of their programs,” he said.

He also credits longtime assistant Terry Kent, who has been coaching for almost 40 years. Waling said he hasn’t changed much from what he learned from those coaches.

“The coaching philosophy was already there,” he said. “I just put my personality into it.”

The biggest benefit has been continued participation. The players and families have bought into the philosophy of Bearcat football.

“Football is a big deal here,” said Waling. “We get very good participation and they take it serious. They know what the expectations are and they want to be pushed.”

It’s the collective commitment, even when things weren’t going well, that showed this special group there are always better days ahead if they kept working towards a common goal.

“When we didn’t have the numbers we had to throw these kids out onto the field when they weren’t necessarily ready,” said Waling. “They all took their turns with that. They’ve been through a lot together and have shared experiences.”

That early start, and those early lumps, have proven beneficial in the long run.

“We have a strong core group who has been through a lot,” said Waling. “If it’s anybody’s time, it’s our time.”