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After sitting out last season due to transfer, Hillsboro-Central Valley's Jake Swanson now disruptive force for Burros

The Burros have 15 sacks and 82 tackles for loss this season.

Hillsboro Central Cass 3.jpg
Central Cass quarterback Brendan Maasjo (12) passes downfield during the Squirrels' game at Hillsboro-Central Valley Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. (Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald)

Hillsboro-Central Valley junior defensive lineman Jake Swanson, who transferred from Thompson as a freshman, had to watch the Burros from the sideline last year as he sat out one season due to transfer rules.

"In a way, it maybe helped me," Swanson said. "I sat on the sideline, seeing how the program works."

Swanson's now eligible and has become a disruptive force in the middle for a Hillsboro-Central Valley defense that has been stout heading into the North Dakota Class B 11-man state championship game.

The No. 1 seed Burros, who haven't allowed more than two touchdowns to an opponent since Sept. 3, play No. 2 seed Kindred at 11:45 a.m. Friday at the Fargodome.

"If he doesn't get a double team, he's chasing stuff down," HCV coach Scott Olsen said of Swanson. "He's a big, strong kid and tough to block."

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Swanson has a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss this season to lead a defense that has 82 tackles for loss on the season.

"We always make sure we're on the same page with our slant calls," Swanson said of the success of his position group. "We've done a great job getting in the backfield with three guys. That opens holes for the linebackers, and they've done great."

Swanson also credited defensive end Barrett Willison, a first-team all-state pick a year ago. Willison, who's also an all-state caliber offensive lineman, played nose tackle last season but the emergence of Swanson allowed Willison to move to end.

Willison has 8.0 tackles for loss this season.

Swanson, at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, didn't exactly hit the ground running this season, though. He didn't start the first few weeks of the year as he learned the nuances of the position.

"Earlier in the year, we knew we had a solid, Dakota Bowl-type team," Swanson said. "Whoever gets the starting spot, gets them. Maybe I wasn't ready right away. By Week 5 I started, and it kept going from there."

The strong play of the HCV defensive front leads to a perfect example of the interconnectedness of a defensive unit.

"It all works together," Olsen said. "If the front three can be disruptive, the linebackers can be untouched on run downs. On pass downs, if they're disruptive, we can drop eight. High school kids have a tough time picking you apart if you drop eight. You want to make tough lanes to throw in. Then, if quarterbacks are off by a little bit, our defensive backs are right there to make plays."

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The Burros faced Kindred earlier this year, winning 26-20 in Week 2.

"They're always so solid and well-coached," Olsen said. "They don't make mistakes. They're run-first, but they're able to do both. The quarterback (Max McQuillan) is just a really good kid. Smart kid. He gets it done."

The Burros, 11-1, last won a state title in 2019. Kindred, 11-1, last won a state title in 2016.

"We're two completely different teams from Week 2," Swanson said. "I think we've stepped up our game, and they've been hot lately. It's two big, physical teams going at it. I can't wait. It'll be a dogfight."

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Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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