Now 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, North Border junior Jaxen Johnson started as a freshman at 6-1 and about 145 pounds on the 2018 Eagles team that went 0-8.
During a three-game stretch that season, North Border was outscored 145-16 by Larimore, Cavalier and New Rockford-Sheyenne.
"It made you not want to play anymore, but we knew we had to push through," Johnson said. "We realized this shows that we have to work harder in the on and offseason. We need to commit more to the team."
The Eagles, with a win over once-Top 5-ranked St. John, are 6-1 this season, winning at least five games for the first time since 2015 and six for the first time since 2011. North Border will also host a first-round North Dakota 9-man playoff game for the first time since 2011.
"When we were 0-8 two years ago, a lot of these guys were playing a lot of football for us then," North Border coach Tim Hartje said. "They were getting beat up because they were young and small."
Enter what players call the Tim-bine -- a mashup of the head coach's name and the combine, a series of tests college players often undergo in order to impress pro scouts.
"All of the guys, we call it the Tim-bine, we go in and see how much we can rep 125 on the bench or how many times you can squat 175, then run a 40-yard dash," Johnson said. "You try to improve that every so often."
Parents, coaches and volunteers took turns opening gyms. Kids were grouped into small teams and kept each other accountable.
After the 0-8 season, North Border was 4-5 last year.
"A lot of weights and dedication," Hartje said. "Things started to turn last year. This year, we have 12 seniors. They're just believing in themselves that they can do it."
This breakout season all came despite a two-week shutdown due to the coronavirus.
"We had a lot of the guys, if we weren't close contacts, we'd go out and make sure we'd run two miles a day at least," Johnson said. "Then we'd play catch and run routes. We did lots of stuff on our own to keep us in shape and in the right football mindset."
Players would record workouts on cell phone applications and screenshot the workouts and send them to coaches.
In order to make up for the missed time, North Border had to squeeze in games late in the year. That's meant three games in eight days.
That stretch started with a 28-16 win over St. John, followed by Tuesday night's 40-12 victory over Nelson County. The Eagles will now play Larimore on Friday night.
North Border's offense is led by Jaden Lee, who has 112 attempts for 776 yards and nine touchdowns. He's aided by Eli Bjornstad (48 carries, 310 yards, eight touchdowns) and Jayce Horgan (24 carries, 160 yards, two touchdowns).
Cooper White is the Eagles' quarterback in his first season as varsity QB. White is 36-for-72 for 781 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
T.J. Cosley is the team's leading receiver with 14 catches for 288 yards. Johnson adds seven grabs for 162 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Johnson paces the Eagles with 58 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. He also has three interceptions and two have been returned for scores. Cosley has five interceptions.