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PREP FOOTBALL: Larimore all-staters give their all during games, practice

Brayden Hofer and Matt Bratlie line up side-by-side on the right side of the Larimore offensive line. When they line up against each other in practice drills, fireworks can happen.

Larimore Polar Bears

Brayden Hofer and Matt Bratlie line up side-by-side on the right side of the Larimore offensive line. When they line up against each other in practice drills, fireworks can happen.

Those opportunities are limited, however.

"It's almost personal when they go at it,'' Larimore coach Paul Peterson said. "They're quality athletes, and they're competitors. They want to win, even in drills. It's a good battle. We don't do it too often. We want to keep them healthy and save it for other teams.''

The two returning all-staters are mainstays on a deep Polar Bears offensive line. That unit has been a key to Larimore's 3-0 start in North Dakota Class A high school football.

"We've had some very good linemen come through here,'' said Peterson, in his 11th season with the program. "They're the best tandem of linemen we've had. Matt is more of a power guy. He's a wrecker. Brayden has better feet; he moves better. Our whole line is good. They make it tough on other teams. They wear people down.''

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Hofer, a senior fourth-year starter at guard, has been an all-state pick each of the past two seasons, gaining first-team honors as a junior. Bratlie, a sophomore and third-year starter at tackle, was a second team all-stater last season.

Keeping it grounded

Usually, Peterson said, Larimore has had one, and sometimes two, 1,000-yard rushers in a season. Now the run-oriented offense is more about balance and the big blocking unit of tackles Bratlie (5-11, 279) and Brandon Molina (5-10, 234), guards Hofer (6-2, 287) and Tristin Martin (5-10, 204) and center Beau Schaley (6-3, 273). Molina was an all-region pick last season.

Larimore even has the luxury of depth on its line. Brayden Hofer's twin brothers, freshmen Levi (6-1, 252) and Caleb (6-1, 250) are getting time to spell starters.

"It's a nice problem to have,'' Peterson said. "There have been years when we had to move fullbacks up to fill spots on the line. We didn't have big guys. In 2009, our two best fullbacks played guard for most of the year.''

Larimore has yet to have a 100-yard rusher in a game (Hunter Trosen had a team-best 84 yards in a game). But the Polar Bears average 245.7 rushing yards and 270.3 yards in total offense per game. Seven players have 13 or more carries; all seven average better than 4.0 yards per rush.

Flipping pancakes

"We have so many good running backs,'' Bratlie said. "Coach can rotate those guys and they're all threats. For all of us linemen, pancake (blocks) are the big thing. We get quite a few every game. They get everybody, on the field and on the sideline, going.''

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Said Hofer: "We tell the coaches to run to our side, that we know we can get the blocking down. But the guys on the other side of the line are saying the same thing.''

Hofer is one lineman who can relate to the running backs.

As part of its offensive package, Larimore has a play with Hofer lining up at fullback. The Polar Bears haven't run it yet this season, but last season Hofer ran in for a touchdown.

"I'd still go with the offensive line as being more fun to play,'' Hofer said. "I like to go one-on-one on the line, to use your size and power. I get more of a thrill getting a pancake block than I did scoring my touchdown.''

That one-on-one challenge is at its best when Bratlie and Hofer meet in practice drills.

"We're pretty competitive,'' Bratlie said. "We're friends. But we'll try to lay each other on his back. It never goes too far, to where we get mad. But we actually kind of enjoy it, going against somebody you can really battle.''

DeVillers reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1128; or send e-mail to gdevillers@gfherald.com .

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