Helmet in hand, Fort Calhoun quarterback Grant Halford grinned Monday morning on the sidelines of his football team's practice field.

The soon-to-be senior had earned his criticism from coaches — an off throw here, a rough read there — but he'd also thrown six touchdowns on 32 pass plays during 7-on-7 competition at Fort Calhoun High School.

“Ecstatic,” Halford said regarding his excitement for the upcoming football season.

The Pioneers continued their offseason preparation Monday with helmet-only football against Conestoga and Tri-Center High School of Neola, Iowa. In two-hand-touch battles between quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and pass defenders, the hosts earned a split against the Cougars and the Trojans.

Fort Calhoun topped Conestoga 30-5 with three Halford touchdown passes. Both offenses also scored points on pass completions and extra-point opportunities.

Halford completed his first TD throw on a sideline route by Harrison Schmitt, who hauled it in. He then hit Kaden Therkildsen for two more scores — on a slant route and then a two-play drive from 40 yards out.

“I think we're just trying to work on the timing between me and the receivers,” Halford said. “Just running through in practice, yeah, we're getting the plays done, but it's not live like 7-on-7 is.”

The quarterback threw two interceptions in the loss to Tri-Center, but also hooked up with Dillon Dierks (1) and Therkildsen (2) for three more touchdown passes. Dierks bobbled the ball on his scoring play, finally coming down with it in the middle of the field and racing to the end zone.

Altogether, the Fort Calhoun offense moved the ball Monday even without its top returning receiver — all-state honorable mention recipient Tyler Strauss — who was resting a minor injury.

“I think it allows me to spread the ball out more,” Halford said. “During the season I really focused on Tyler, but this season I think I'll be able to spread it out more to everyone.”

Therkildsen, Michael Shirley, Schmitt, Dierks and Clint Dierks were his primary targets Monday. The Pioneers expect those players and a strong senior class will help them improve after a one-win season a year ago.

“Me, Grant, Tyler, Cole (Klabunde), (Davan) Goos and Austin (Alstadt) — us seniors — we've had a bunch of fun times,” Therkildsen said. “We've gotten really close in the weight room and we're all just excited to get back on the field again. We know this season is going to be better than last season.”

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