Male Area Athlete of the Week: Durant’s pick-6 helps C-I become section champions for the first time ever
A big play from senior Cam Durant sparks the Rangers to a victory over Mesabi East in the Section 7-2A Final.
Defense wins championships is the cliche.
For the Crosby-Ironton Rangers last week, it became a reality.
Senior linebacker Cam Durant returned an interception for a touchdown Friday, Nov. 20, as the Rangers captured their first section title in a 34-6 win over Mesabi East in the Section 7-2A finals in Proctor.
“It’s something everybody dreams about,” Durant said. “You play football and you want to be section champions. It just felt like everything we worked for finally paid off.”
Durant’s pick-six came with 4:46 left in the third quarter and expanded C-I’s lead to 16-6.
“It came right after a drive where we got stopped at the 2-yard line,” Durant said. “They kept running the same routes and if you keep doing it I’m going to pick it off.”
When Durant picked it off he knew no one was going to catch him on his way to the end zone.
“It’s my job to be fast,” he said. “It changed the game so much. After that, I just felt like the other team had no chance.”
Rangers head coach Bryan Srystad was impressed by the interception.
“He kind of noticed it at halftime that Mesabi East was running the inner route with their running back,” Syrstad said. “He was playing as one of our inside backers and he cheated out a little wider, jumped the route and took it to the house.”
Later in the fourth quarter, the Rangers scored on another pick-six this time from Gabe Kramer.
For Durant, the game-swinging interception was due in large part to his preparation.
“A lot of that is his preparation leading up to the game,” Syrstad said. “Watching film on them and noticing things as the game is going on.”
The game-plan against Mesabi East was to stop the run and keep everything in front.
“Make them throw over the top and we got some playmakers,” Durant said.
All season Durant was one of the leaders for C-I on defense. He started the year playing defensive back, but switched to linebacker midseason. He recorded 33 tackles, six tackles for loss and five pass breakups in seven games.
“Cam has played all over for us this year,” Srystad said. “He started out the year as one of our top corners for us and as the season went on with injuries we put him in at one of our middle linebackers.
“You can always count on Cam. When you need him to make a play, he makes it. He’s always in the right spot and is helping others execute their job by doing his.”
Durant’s versatility shows up in many ways. On special teams, he was the Rangers long snapper.
“He does a little bit of everything for us,” Srystad said. “He's been our punt returner, our kickoff returner. He played receiver and then jumped back at running back. He’s a guy that you can move all over the place and try things with.”
Srystad has coached Durant since junior high basketball and has seen him grow. Srystad said Durant has always been an excellent athlete.
“He’s really athletic,” he said. “He’s a team-first player and a really good tackler. He tackles low and wraps up well.”
As a captain, Durant stepped up in the offseason leading a lot of weight room sessions the Rangers did. With the season hanging in the balance and a possible spring season scenario looming, Durant’s attitude had a positive effect on the C-I program.
“He was showing the younger guys how it’s done,” Syrstad said. “He’s really grown up a lot since he started in the program. He’s led by example, working hard in the weight room, seven-on-sevens and in practice as well.”
The big takeaway for Durant this season was to not take things for granted.
“I feel for all the other teams and being a senior and getting your season shortened because people weren’t doing what they were supposed to,” Durant said. “I’m just glad.”
Durant doesn’t know what he is going to do after high school yet. His biggest memory of playing football for C-I is how happy football made him.
“No matter how bad your day was going everyone was just so happy,” Durant said. “It was literally the highlight of your day every day.”
Although the Rangers' first section title came when only three teams in Section 7-2A could participate due to COVID-19, Srystad still enjoyed the opportunity his team got to compete.
“Not every program was fortunate enough to do that,” he said. “It’s special for our program to have those extra two times together especially for our seniors. They really stuck together and kept the team together through the lowest of lows and really getting through the whole season through COVID and injuries. To have one more week together was really special.”
Other notable performances:
Football: Zak Olsson, Verndale, caught nine passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in a win.
Gideon Ervasti, Verndale, rushed for 163 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown in a win.
Owen Miller, Aitkin, rushed for 240 yards on 21 carries and four touchdowns in a win.
Hunter Nissen, Aitkin, rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown in a win.
Kale Dugan, Crosby-Ironton, rushed for 94 yards on 17 carries in a win.
Dietrich Winegamer, Crosby-Ironton, caught two passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in a win.
Gabe Kramer, Crosby-Ironton, returned an interception for a touchdown in a win.
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.
Highlights: Interception return for a touchdown in a 34-6 win over Mesabi East in the Section 7-2A championship.