Some teams at the developmental level start with ample resources to immediately make the vision for their team a reality, but that isn’t the story for most teams. Most teams are founded purely out of passion and their team evolves and grows over time into a much better version itself than that which initially came onto the scene.
This is the story of the Bismarck Wolves, with the help of marketing director and player Corey Kimbrough, who has been there from the beginning.
“The Wolves started probably like a bunch of other teams at our level, as an idea and some guys doing some backyard stuff,” Kimbrough told Developmental Football USA.
“I’ve been with this team going on six years now. We went from a loose, draw-it-in-the-dirt style of play to some legit respectable seasons. We’ve been good enough to draw in a couple of guys who played at North Dakota State years ago, and we’ve even had a few of the local high schoolers want to play for us after they graduate. We used to have to drive ourselves in a caravan to away games, but last season we actually had a team bus to travel together.”
Not long after drawing up plays in the dirt with his football buddies six years ago, Wolves owner Marcus Harrison found out about the Midwest Premier Football League and joined it.
“I remember my older brother asking if I wanted to play football and I ended up paying part of our membership fee along with them,” Kimbrough recalled.
Like most teams, some guys hang it up after each season, while new guys come along to fill in the gaps, but the ones that stick around for several years grow really close and become family.
“This team has come to mean everything to me,” Kimbrough said. “I was just a player for the first three years and when we lost our sponsor and home field a year ago, I stepped up to help right the ship. I happily took over our Facebook page, since nobody was running it and when we needed a redesign I had a tablet and drew sports logos for fun so I created those too. Probably my biggest pride is getting to design our uniforms and seeing the guys who would wear it be super hyped to do so. I say the Wolves are the best thing that’s happened to me since I moved to North Dakota.”
Kimbrough isn’t the only longtime Wolf who has this same level of passion, though. His brother, Kyle, along with Harrison and David Hinds have all been there since the beginning.
“Marcus, as a player-made-owner, I think helps show to new guys that come to games or practice that nobody is above the team and his heart to play can really rub off on guys,” Kimbrough said. “I mean, he started a team just so he could play football again, after all.”
Hinds is a former baseball player who came in and quickly became a staple on the Wolves defense at end and went on to lead the league in sacks one year.
“I often use him as an example that if you take our coaching, then you can do big things for this team you thought you couldn’t,” Kimbrough said.
Corey’s brother, Kyle, brought his experience as a former player for Minot State to the Wolves and was instantly a pillar for this organization, though not on the field at first.
“A few players kind of knew him from that and that’s been a major help in showing that we aren’t just a bunch of couch potatoes getting steamrolled,” Corey Kimbrough said. “His real strength is his motor on the field, but most is his knowledge of the game. He taught me how to break down film on teams and recognize those tendencies in game. He was our head coach for two years and just decided to be a player last season.”
Corey runs the defense for the Wolves, who base out of a 4-2-5.
“My brother made the choice to have us run the defense from Rich Rodriguez’s West Virginia teams,” Kimbrough said. “He taught me how every part of that defense works. It was hard having everyone on a field trust me at first, but even now the defense still works to stop our pass-heavy opponents by having five DBs all the time, and it still gives us the ability to bliz. Also, the fact that I’ve only missed three games in our history and play the entire game on offense and defense helps us push our stress on heart and drive in games.”
The time, passion and energy those four have poured into this team for six years has definitely laid the foundation for the Wolves that carries them on today.
“A few things have come to define us as a team,” Kimbrough said. “One is a brotherhood feeling among the players, and we play our opponents tough and have built a reputation of class and not quitting. Everything hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows, though.”
The Wolves have yet to stake claim to a championship, but they did make the playoffs in their first four years before going 1-9 in 2018. Their record wasn’t the only thing tough the Wolves had to overcome last year.
“We had a bad season due to a lot of injuries,” Kimbrough said. “We also had a player die in a car crash after an away game versus our biggest rival, the Minot Oilers, and recently our biggest fan, Sinsere Smith, passed away, so we plan to honor his memory this season.”
Last year wasn’t the only time the Wolves have suffered a loss off the field. A former player, Liam, who moved to the states from South Africa with a friend, passed following a grain mill accident.
“These things have brought us closer together with the community and the area,” Kimbrough said. “Overall we seem to have a bright future ahead of us.”
The Wolves 2019 Signing Day is already in the books and the guys are back on the practice field each weekend, getting ready for their season in May.
“We definitely plan to get back to form,” Kimbrough said. “2018 was a rebuilding year, now we have to build our name up again. We’d like to have a much better result than 1-9 too. I think a playoff return and getting closer to the championship game. We have more youth coming onto the roster so far with our first workouts. I hope come spring and summer they can pay off big for us.”
In 2019, the Wolves will look to close the gap with the likes of MPFL heavyweights, the Tri-City Northstars and the Lakes Area Snowmen.
“We haven’t beaten them many times, but it’s rarely ever a blowout,” Kimbrough said. “Many times have taken Tri-City into fourth within one or two scores, with nearly half of the number of guys they have. Lakes Area has had trouble putting us away themselves. Right now, I think the Wolves are in a tier just below the top of our league.”
The MPFL spreads across North Dakota and Minnesota. In his time with the Wolves, Kimbrough has seen the league grow from only four teams, up to 10 teams last year.
“There was a little upheaval this off-season with a league in Minnesota forming and taking a few of our East Division members away, but we found more almost instantly.”