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How good will this fall’s UMD football team be? The picture came into a little sharper focus during Tuesday afternoon’s intrasquad scrimmage at Malosky Stadium.
Mostly second-team and rookie players were on the field when No. 13 in maroon took a handoff, slithered through a tiny hole in the line, and was off to the races -- sprinting up the right sideline for something like a 70-yard touchdown run.
Since one of the Bulldogs’ major challenges is to find a couple of explosive running backs, it appeared that our “No. 14” might be just what the doctor ordered.
The doctor, in this case, is coach Curt Wiese. After that most impressive scoring run, I asked Curt who No. 14 was.
“That’s Dom Conway,” Wiese said. “A true freshman.”
I asked if UMD has big plans for the true freshman from De Pere, Wis., and Wiese said: “Hopefully, we can redshirt him.”
Division I and II football teams most like to bring in flashy freshmen, and give them a year to get acclimated, work on weights, and prepare themselves for productive college careers by having them redshirt -- staying our of game action for a year and still retaining four years of eligibility.
But when a team needs to find a couple of running backs, and somebody as explosive and swift as Conway shows his heels to the whole defense, it is a true sign of strenght and depth if that team can afford to hold him out of competition for a season.
The intrasquad scrimmage was an enjoyable evening for players, coaches and fans alike, especially new students who were welcomed to orientation with a large free feed of barbecued pork, potato salad, chips, assorted healthy beverages, and an assortment of cookies. A few thousand freshmen showed up and may have been impressed with the layout, put on by Tavern On the Hill, Erbert and Gerbert’s, Jimmy John’s, Cub Foods and Fury drinks. They may also be unaware that they should appreciate what may prove to be a rare free feast for their college fees.
Because it was maroons against whites, the teams wore practice pullovers, which also meant there were no visible numbers, and no way to tell who was on the field at any given time. The public address announcer was reduced to saying things such as: “That was a nice pass from No. 2 to No. 17.”
Didn’t matter, because, as Wiese said, “It was typical of a first scrimmage. We had a lot of young guys who needed to get some reps in front of a big crowd like this. It was a good effort by everyone, and we’re all looking to take the next step toward Sept. 3rd.”
The season starts in extreme fashion as the Bulldogs play at Minnesota State-Mankato in an opener that pits the top two teams in the Northern Sun Conference and with defending national runner-up Mankato facing the region’s No. 3 ranked Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are set up to provide a comfortable break-in for newcomers, with 10 seniors and 20 juniors on the roster. That’s 30 players -- more than enough to fill out starters both on offense and defense. But depth is extremely important.
Drew Bauer, who seems situated as a long-term regular at quarterback, has been exactly that, having started since the second game of his freshman season. A smart-reading and adaptive play-caller, Bauer has superb running back Logan Lauters to hand the ball to, and wide receiver Beau Bofferding proved he can do an impressive job at running back as well.
Wiese’s teams always have a trademark defense that can stifle foes, so finding a few receivers and running backs remains a priority.
In the scrimmage, Darren Walker looked good. A juinmior t5ransfer from Elk Grove, Cal., who is from Elk Grove, Calif. And Nate Ricci, a sophomore from Stillwater, made an excellent diving catch along the sidelines as another highlight of the controlled scrimmage that featured different plays to emphasize scoring offense, and the chance to escape from deep in their own end.
Wiese said he likes the makeup of this team and is satisfied with the progress of the Bulldogs, but he kept mentioning “September 3rd” a lot. A victory in the opener at MSU-Mankato would set the standard high, while a loss, which would be no disgrace, would mean battling every week to regain their high preseason rank.