HELEN – This is not to deny the talent of Gavin Vandenacre. If the second season of 6-foot-3 Townsend Wide-Out wasn’t enough to grab people’s attention, last year certainly was.
For the second year in a row, Vandenacre took all-state honors on the football field, this time catching 49 passes for over 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. He caught seven balls for 143 yards in Townsend’s Class B playoff win over Huntley Project last year and was an All-Conference first-team selection on both sides of the ball.
“It’s a great weapon,” said Bulldogs head coach Travis Rauh. “He does a lot of things that we are working on to give him football, but he opens things up to a lot of other players on the team just by the defense he draws to them. Probably one of the best things about him – yes, he’s one of the best players in the state – but his work ethic is phenomenal. He continues to work to improve and sets a great example for other players.
In his last two seasons, Vandenacre made nearly 100 catches for nearly 1,900 yards and 22 points. In just over a week, he will start his senior season on the grill, alongside quarterback Trey Hoveland who has racked up an impressive number of his own targets by targeting his tall receiver.
“The sky is the limit,” Hoveland said of the upcoming season. “We’ve worked really hard this year and had a lot of reps together. Just a little more chemistry together. I think as far as we want to go we can go.
Townsend reached the second round of the state playoffs in 2020 after going 6-2 in the regular season behind the Hoveland-Vandenacre connection. Ten of the 11 starters are back, both offensively and defensively, players who took the time in this offseason to attack the fall.
Given how good they’ve been over the past two seasons, Hoveland and Vandenacre could have taken an easier approach to the offseason. What they did, however, was keep working on timing and running, two of the most important elements in maintaining a high level of success.
“You always know he’s going to work hard wherever he goes, he’s going to go full speed ahead and everything will be fine,” Hoveland said of Vandenacre. “Having a guy like that is great, especially with a work ethic like him… I feel like we’re always pushing each other. If I throw a bad ball he picks me up and says it’s okay we’ll get it next time. We push each other for the next extra rep.
Individually, Vandenacre has had a busy summer. He attended several college football camps, as did a handful of his teammates, and visited Montana State University. Vandenacre also received several offers from the Frontier conference programs in Carroll and Montana Western.
“It was really fun to visit a lot of colleges here,” said Vandenacre. “To be able to improve against competition from the whole state and other states as well. I really enjoyed being able to go out and try to improve for my team. Much of our team has been to college football camps this year and it has made us all better. We haven’t taken a lot of free time and we all have a goal in mind.
Townsend and his 11 seniors want to return to the state title match the program won in 2014. That could very well be the last box Vandenacre has to tick in his career as a decorated high school student. Vandenacre said he doesn’t lack the motivation to work hard on the football pitch as he now watches what could be his best season yet.
“Just a lot of dedication and a lot of understanding of what I need to do to get to where I am,” said Vandenacre. “How I have to put time and effort and just put a lot of what I have into this game. I’m doing it, not just for myself, I’m doing it for my team, for my family. I’m doing it for the Lord. , I do it for so many other reasons and I think that’s what keeps me going, it’s what allows me to drive really, really hard to get better every day.
Rauh said his star catcher rarely failed to smile and never seemed to be having a bad day. Vandenacre’s connection with Hoveland allows the coaching staff to install games on a weekly basis, and no matter what route is run, the pair always seem to be found.
“One of the most important things that jumps out there is how well he plays in space and he just knows how to get a soccer ball,” Rauh said of Vandenacre. “It’s a bit difficult to teach. His course and his technique on both sides of the ball, he works so hard that it is of a very high level.
Over his past two seasons, Vandenacre has averaged better than 20 yards per take, including an average per take north of 23 yards last year.
“I’m a deep way guy,” Vandenacre said. “I like showing off the wheels, I like leading these posts, these outings. It’s not that bad to make a comeback every now and then. I have a quarterback who can throw the ball to me when he really wants to. It helps a lot. Half of a completed throw is the quarterback pass.
More than statistics and individual successes, Vandenacre said his main concern during the season is to make sure his team wins. After a solid year that ended on a bad note, this offseason has been all about working to make amends and Townsend has the chemistry to make it happen.
“The only thing that really stands between us and where we need to be is us,” said Vandenacre. “I think if we think about it and work hard, which we’ve been all summer – we hang out and we have so much chemistry. We know each other so well inside and out. It’s fun to play with them. I think when you have fun playing with the people you love to be with, you can be even better on a soccer team.
Townsend’s roster has 32 players this season, including 11 seniors. Rauh said he expects his players to be hungry for success this fall, and with about a week into the season he’s seen a lot of good things from his guys.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with our preparation for the season so far,” said Rauh. “The kids are working hard and getting better. The schedule and assignments have come a long way. It’s a good thing we have an extra week to clean up a few things. I think by next week we should be ready to get into a game.
Townsend is scheduled to open his season on September 3 against Anaconda at home. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.