BATTLE GROUND — Aksel Fridriksson immediately started thinking about the football season when he broke his right arm on the basketball court last winter.
As the lone returning all-league player on the Battle Ground football roster, he knew he was going to be one of the team’s leaders. He knew others would be looking up to him. He knew he could not let anyone down.
Today, Fridriksson is healed, ready to go, and in pretty good shape, too, because he refused to let the injury and the rehabilitation process slow him down any more than necessary.
“I want to be the best defensive lineman in the league, the best in everything I do,” Fridriksson said. “Sitting on my butt worrying about my arm wasn’t going to help.
“Sit around and do nothing, or get to work. I chose Option 2,” he said.
Fridriksson said he did everything he could under the circumstances to maintain his strength. That included using a weighted vest so he could continue to squat in the weight room. (His arm was in no condition to hold the bar in a traditional position for the lift.)
“Senior season, you gotta be the best you can be,” he explained. “You don’t want to live out the rest of your life thinking what could have been.”
What will be for the 2017 Battle Ground Tigers remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: Change.
The Tigers graduated eight all-league players, including four who made all-league on both sides of the ball, and the school’s all-time leading passer.
Oh yes, and a new coach. Mike Kesler, after a long career as an assistant coach in Clark County, has taken over the top spot at Battle Ground.
It is an interesting spot, to say the least. The Tigers won 15 games the past two seasons, the best two-year stretch for the program since 1990-91.
But the 2017 team has just more than a half-dozen players with seasoned varsity experience.
“Our expectations are higher than others’. We would be doing a disservice to them otherwise,” Kesler said.
It is also fair to say, though, that those “others” — other teams, coaches, fans, and media, too – have a difficult time seeing how Battle Ground can keep winning this season.
Fridriksson is OK with that. Because Fridriksson said he knows the secret for Battle Ground.
“It’s right for people to think that. We don’t have those guys to look up to anymore. But that’s the thing with football,” Fridriksson said. “When some starters go out, new people step up. That’s what’s going on right now. In the weight room. At practice. New leaders step up. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Among the new faces in new roles for the Tigers this season:
- Seth Workman and Brock Robinson are both quarterbacks and wide receivers. Workman went into fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback, but both will get looks as the signal caller and both will be in the game, one position or the other.
- Noah Barr, a linebacker and fullback, will be a force, and is a positive role model for the younger players, Kesler said. Barr was a starting lineman last season and is changing positions in 2017.
- Linemen Blake Harris and Austin Stewart are the tough linemen Battle Ground needs to give the team an edge.
“We all expect the greatest from everybody,” Fridriksson said.
His mindset is what got him noticed in the first place last season. Coaches saw his dedication and his improvement, and Fridriksson was rewarded with a starting role. He excelled, and was voted second-team, all-league.
“All the great guys in this league, and to be chosen as one of the best of them, it’s truly an honor,” Fridriksson
He is not kidding about this league. Battle Ground was a top-10 ranked team in the state last season but finished third in the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League. Only two GSHL teams made the playoffs. Skyview would go on to the state semifinals. Camas won the state championship. Battle Ground had November off.
“That was pretty disappointing,” Fridriksson said. “We just have to really work our … off to get above those teams.”
Which is why Kesler appreciates having a player such as Fridriksson on his first team as a head coach. Fridriksson could not hit during spring drills and team camp. His arm was not ready.
But the coach witnessed Fridriksson doing every other possible thing, including cardio workouts, to maintain his athleticism.
“You can’t even tell he’s been injured,” Kesler said. “It’s because of his work ethic.”
No matter what happens with the Tigers this football season, Fridriksson and his teammates don’t want to have any regrets.