JHS senior class is 'different', lots expected from two-time state champs

Aug. 25—JAMESTOWN — Jamestown High School head football coach Bill Nelson says the same thing every year:

"Every group is different."

But this year's group — especially the seniors — is all kinds of different.

First of all, they entered the program in the middle of a global pandemic.

"This group of seniors has had a little bit of a different road because they were the COVID class — they were the freshman class that kind of practiced on their own, they had to be by themselves," Nelson said. They always practiced at a different time than everybody else and you still help them but it's different when you don't get to work alongside sophomores, juniors and seniors. You learn how to do things differently."

Secondly, they are the second-largest senior class in Nelson's tenure with 18 seniors.

"I'd say the class has a lot of dedicated kids who stick with the game they love and want to keep having success as a team," now-senior Tyson Jorissen said.

Thirdly, they are the first class to have three consecutive seasons at .500 or higher since the JHS Class of 2001.

As freshmen, the Class of 2024 watched as quarterback Ty Monson helped lead the Blue Jays to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. The squad's season ended at 4-4. The next two seasons the Jays went 10-2 through the year.

Lastly, they are the first senior class in program history that could win a third-straight state title.

But — we're not really talking about that — yet.

"I credit these kids," Nelson said. "They've put in a lot of time. They are a determined bunch. They are going to roll up their sleeves and go to work. We're going to keep the kids humble and they are going to keep working extremely hard. It's a new team, it's a new year, and 2023 has the potential to be a special season."

It may be a new team but it's sure going to look a lot like the 2022 squad.

"The past two classes of seniors have made a great impact on the program by leading by example and showing all the younger guys what's the right thing to do and what's not OK to do," JHS senior Bo Nelson said."They have been amazing people to look up to and see what needs to be done to be successful."

The Blue Jays began practices on Aug. 7 and will be opening the season on Aug. 25 at Grand Forks Red River. The Jays have four home games on the schedule and will play five on the road.

"There is a lot of potential — a lot of different routes we can go," Coach Nelson said. "There are a lot of different combinations but it all comes down to getting off of the ball and which people are getting off blocks and pushing the line of scrimmage the other way and making life hard for the other team's offense.

"What's unique about this group — on paper — is that we have more depth up front than we've had in a long time," he said. "That's where games are won and lost — you have to control the line of scrimmage."

The Jays will return four of their five starters to the offensive line this season. Seniors Jack Van Berkom, Bo Nelson and Colin Conway will line up at left tackle, center and right tackle, respectively, while junior Vaughn Romsdal is expected to take over the left guard position again this season.

The foursome will be tasked with protecting a new signal caller this season as the Jays lost two-year starter Payton Hochhalter to graduation.

Hochhalter threw for 2,630 yards in his final year as a Blue Jay. He averaged more than nine yards per pass and more than 219 yards passing each game.

In Dakota Bowl XXX, Hochhalter and the Blue Jay offense produced 485 yards of total offense. The quarterback ended his prep career with a stat line that read 16-for-25, 296 yards passing, three passing touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown and two interceptions.

He was named the 2022 Class A Senior Athlete of the Year.

"We've obviously had some good quarterbacks come through the program and I don't foresee that changing," Coach Nelson said. "These guys are working hard, they have a goal. The beautiful part about having depth and competition within the team is that you get the best out of everyone."

Juniors Ryan Kallenbach and Thomas Newman are the top two athletes vying for the Jays' starting quarterback this season. Kallenbach played in four varsity games as a sophomore and was 4-for-5 for 39 yards. No official passing stats for Newman were recorded last season.

"They are both working for stuff, they've got strong points and they have weak points," Nelson said. "Just because someone might start week one, it could change — it's got to be a week-to-week progression. It's not going to be a snap of a finger, who would want that? That would be way too boring."

A week-to-week progression seems to be the expectation for every Blue Jay no matter their position.

"Caden Michaelson is another senior who was behind Jackson Walters last year on both sides of the ball," Nelson said. "As we know, Jackson Walters didn't come off the field a whole lot so Caden got to learn from a pretty darn good receiver and one of the best middle linebackers in the state and he's going to be in the mix on both sides of the ball."

Michaelson played five games for the Blue Jay defense last season and recorded 12 total — eight solo — tackles and three sacks.

Seniors Sam Mayhair, Tyson Jorissen and junior Nate Walz are expected to be joining Michaelson on both sides of the ball.

Mayhair, a middle linebacker, went down with a non-contact ACL injury last season but still managed 24 tackles through his six games played.

Walz played in 11 of the Jays' 12 games as a sophomore and solidified himself as one of the Jays' main threats at receiver making 21 catches for 490 yards and eight touchdowns. On defense, Walz was credited with 25 solo and 33 total tackles five interceptions and one defensive score.

Jorissen, one of the Jays' slot receivers, hauled in 39 receptions for 453 yards and four touchdowns last fall. He also had six punt returns for 107 yards.

"I may not always get all the big deep routes but I get the routes to get us first downs and gain yardage," Jorissen said. "I have played many positions. I was a running back in junior high and switched to quarterback my freshman year. Now, I play receiver and stuck with that because I liked the position the most and that was the role they needed me in."

Jorissen, like many athletes in Jamestown, started playing football as soon as he could.

"I remember playing flag football and just hoping the time would fly by so I could put on some pads and actually start tackling people and playing how the bigger kids played," Jorissen said. "As I grew up I found out how much I had fallen in love with the sport, the people, my teammates and the feeling you get when you step on the field in front of all these people watching."

Those people who venture out to Charlotte and Gordon Hansen Stadium to watch a Blue Jay football game again this year will see a returner at the kicking position.

"Up until last year we had never had a female on the team," Nelson said. "Then in May of 2022, Sara (Sletto) came in. She's just like anyone else on the team, she's just as important as anybody else. She's a team-first person.

"Last year, two guys didn't do their job and a seam opened up and if it wasn't for her, we would have been down a touchdown at home," he said. "She came to the sideline just giddy because she actually got to hit somebody. She wants to be treated as a part of the team."

Sletto, a senior, was named one of the Blue Jays' kickers last season and is expected back for a second go-around this fall. She was 38-for-55 in terms of extra-point attempts last year.

"We feel like our blueprint is pretty solid," Nelson said. "We know what needs to be done from a training and preparation standpoint. The Xs and Os are important, but how much you care about that bird on the side of your helmet and how much you care about the guy next to you — that's the most important.

"If we work together as a team, we have the chance to be a pretty good football team again this year," he said.