Another undersized H-LP football team backs down from no one

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Harris-Lake Park High School runs through plays during football practice last week. The 2020 Wolves are undersized in football terms, but that has never stopped them before. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

LAKE PARK, Iowa -- You heard it before, at birthday parties and Christmas celebrations, that good things come in small packages.

At Harris and Lake Park, football fans agree. For years, the Wolves have produced a good many undersized players who have been instrumental in the program’s success. In 2020, it’s more of the same. Of the 24 players between grades 9-12 on this year’s roster, 16 of them weigh 165 pounds or less. Several “little guys” are crucial contributors on this year’s team.

Veteran head coach Lane Gunderson doesn’t mind the runts. But it’s probably not wise to call them runts to their faces.

“Twenty years ago we had a lot of big linemen,” he said recently just prior to an afternoon practice. “Most years we have to use quickness and toughness and smarts. I like guys that can move and get out to people in space.”

That’s all well and good, of course. But hasn’t he encouraged them to put on a little more weight? Like, maybe, hasn’t he shoved a chocolate malt or two in front of them and said a malt a day can be good for you?


Gunderson smiled. “I talk to the kids about it -- make sure they’re lifting, and making sure they get a lot of protein in their diets. … You go a little bit west of here, there’s big kids all over the place. You wonder if they could import a little bit of those kids here.”

Actually, they have. The Minnesota communities of Round Lake and Sioux Valley sometimes send kids to attend H-LP, and they seem to grow ‘em bigger across the state line.

“The problem is,” said the coach, “we don’t get that many from Minnesota.”

So far this fall, the undersized Wolves are 2-2. They began the season by getting blown out by powerhouses Newell-Fonda and Remsen St. Mary’s, but instead of throwing in the towel they bounced back with wins over Kingsley-Pierson and GTRA.

They have not been bred to back down from anybody, and they never will.

One of the few hefty players on the 2020 team, junior offensive guard and noseguard Tyler Jurva, is one of three on the roster who tips the scales at 200 pounds or more. Gunderson describes Jurva as a “big, strong kid who moves really well.”

Senior Jaxon Heikens is a two-year starter who holds down spots at center and defensive end, and at 193 pounds he’s definitely not undersized. Not thick, he’s tall, and Gunderson says he’s probably more suited for a wide receiver. But, of course, the team is always in need of big linemen.

“Any time we’re good, we’re good on the line, and it seems whenever we struggle, we’re not so good on the line,” said the coach.


Toughness comes in all sizes

Speed? Quickness? Elusiveness? The Wolves aren’t lacking this year at those traits.

H-LP entered the fall with a strong senior quarterback, 5-10, 155-pounder Brody Sohn, who injured his throwing shoulder in the second game of this season. He was forced into starting as a sophomore, Gunderson said, though weighing in the 120-pound range.

“We were happy that he survived,” said the coach.

Gunderson’s son, Tyce, has filled in at the signal caller position while Sohn focuses on returning, first as a receiver. Tyce, a sophomore who has seen action at linebacker, plays safety on defense and is the team’s leading tackler despite his 5-9, 155-pound frame.

“This is the year where he’s really made great strides. He’s one of our most sure tacklers and he’s an elusive threat (on offense),” said his dad.

Tyce doesn’t see his size as a drawback for himself, or for his team. “We try to eat as much as we can after lifting. … When you can’t put on weight, sometimes that’s just going to be the way it’s going to be.

“I try to use my mind the most to try to beat the bigger guys to the ball. And just hit the weight room to try to be close to their strength. You just gotta give it your all all the time, and usually stuff works out,” he said.

Dylan Meyer is another H-LP player who gets the most out of what he’s got. He’s a senior wide receiver, tight end and defensive end, and Coach Gunderson says he’s a “generous” 155 pounds.


Meyer was well-sized once. “I’ve tried (to put on weight) but I haven’t grown since eighth grade. Not a single inch or a single pound. I used to be one of the bigger kids in middle school, then everybody grew and I stayed the same.”

Alas. Such is life.

Not that that doesn’t keep Meyer from being one of the team’s biggest contributors.

“I was always taught from a young age to always do the best you can, and go as hard as you can for as long as you can,” he explained. “You gotta get low when you tackle, or you’re just going to get run over.”

Lucas Gunderson, a senior 5-10, 177-pound tailback and middle linebacker -- and a cousin to Tyce -- played as a freshman at 140 pounds. Now, however, he’s an outstanding lead blocker on offense and is “rock-solid,” according to Coach Gunderson. “The biggest compliment I can give him is he’s so tough. He didn’t back down even as a freshman,” the coach declared.

Other important players include Braydan Perkins (Jr., 6-0, 160), Tate Gilmore (Jr., 5-7, 163) and Austin Gilmore (Jr., 5-10, 155). Austin is one of the starting offensive guards.

The team’s overall lack of size dictates, to a degree, what the Wolves can attempt on offense.

Fortunately, the school plays 8-man football, so it doesn’t need as many large lineman as an 11-man school would. Still, it never hurts to be hefty. When the Wolves want to run anything tight, said Coach Gunderson, they prefer running it out of the shotgun veer, which keeps opposing defenses guessing. They like to spread the field by having at least two, and sometimes four receivers split out.


But you can’t win consistently without having a running game, and that’s a work in progress.

“We have to find out a way to be more effective running the ball,” said the coach. “If you can’t keep ‘em honest, then you’re not going to be able to do anything.”

That’s true, of course. But somehow, for H-LP, it always seems to work.

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