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If you happen to catch a glimpse of the morning UMD football practices, you’ll notice that while the offensive and defensive units make programmed switches of locations on the Malosky Stadium turf, the offensive units have at least a half dozen guys taking turns playing quarterback, taking snaps and firing off quick passes.
You can tell the quarterbacks because they’re all wearing gold jerseys, and they’re the ones taking the snaps. And you can tell there’s about a half dozen of them, because they’ve each got a different number on the practice jerseys.
When it comes time for coach Curt Wiese and his staff to select a starter for the Thursday, August 31 season opener against a potent Sioux Falls team, it will be a difficult choice. It also could be not pivotal, because he could change plans and alternate signal-callers, or use one for passing situations and another for running rollouts.
But if history means anything, it could be a hugely significant move. If you have been a Bulldog football fan for more than a decade, you realize that UMD has had an amazing run of impressive quarterbacks. And they’ve been amazingly durable, as well as highly skilled.
The burden of expectations probably have minimal effect on the likes of Mike Rybarczyk, Ben Everhart, John Larson, and the rest of the crew, because they’re all sophomores or freshmen. They’ve seen or at least heard all the accolades that came Drew Bauer’s way when he led the Bulldogs over the last four seasons.
They probably have heard less about Chase Vogler, or Ted Schlafke, Bauer’s predecessors. Schlafke, who rewrote the record book for UMD with his passing while playing quarterback for four seasons, up through 2008, gave way to Vogler, who gained the position quickly after an early season injury gave him an opening and he never let go, calling the shots for the next four years, up through 2012. Then it was Bauer who stepped in, alternating at first, but taking command with an almost innate ability to read coach Curt Wiese’s mind.
One thing has been a constant for those three quarerbacks: They won, and they played with with consistent excellence while UMD won championships on a regular basis. Bauer, of course, is the best-remembered of the group because he just finished his playing time.
After various games, if UMD needed a huge play to reverse momentum or to score a game-breaking touchdown, I would ask Coach Wiese if the big play was a designed play, or if Bauer had improvised with an audible. About half the time, Wiese would give credit to Bauer.
“When the game got to a key point, Drew would come up to the line of scrimmage and see something we weren’t prepared for,” Wiese said. “He’d take a deep breath and call something, and make us all look good.”
Wiese also said he anticipated that one of this year’s quarterback candidates might establish that same mental connection, immediately perhaps. “A lot of game management will come out in the next few weeks,” the coach said. “I’m not opposed to playing one or two guys, maybe if one of them has more of a calming effect.”
Wide receiver Nate Ricci acknowledged that he developed a connection with Bauer. “We had three years to get to know each other,” Ricci said. “It takes time and repetition, but all of these candidates on this team are solid athletes, and I’m sure we’ll all get familiar with each other.”
At the start of camp, Rybarczyk had the primary role, based on spring drills. He’s a 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore from Addison, Ill., where he played at Addison Trail High School. Larson is a 6-1, 200-pound freshman from Braham, Minnesota, and Everhart is a 6-foot, 210-pounder from Eau Claire Memorial. If those three have the early lead for the No. 1 job, they’re just ahead of the pack.
All the quarterback candidates also know that Wiese and his staff are not against picking a freshman, if he can do the job. In fact, it makes it a lot easier if a coach can pick the right freshman and know that he can devote his focus on other issues, because quarterback is taken care of. For four years.
Last season, the Bulldogs opened at Southwest Minnesota State and were stunned when their rally fell short and they lost 42-38. Because the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference plays in two divisions, that was an interdivisional game. It stung, but UMD came back to win 10 straight games before ending the season with a jolting 59-26 setback at Emporia State in a Division II playoff game.
Starting off with a loss meant that the Bulldogs faced extra pressure every game, realizing that a second loss would undoubtedly eliminate any playoff hope. It doesn’t get any easier this year, because while UMD is ranked No. 10 in the nation in preseason Division II polls, Sioux Falls is ranked 17th, as the top-ranked team in the NSIC southern half.
Vikings, Old Friend
The Minnesota Vikings were less than scintillating in their 17-10 exhibition opener at Buffalo last week, with the Duluth-area highlight coming when it was 3-3 in the third quarter and the Vikings called a goal-line play for fullback C.J. Ham, who angled through a tiny hole in the line and then barreled in for the Vikings first touchdown this year. Ham has been shifted to fullback, which in the Vikings scheme means a whole lot of blocking and precious few chances to run the ball. He may cause them to change that plan.
The Vikings won’t find things easier at Seattle Friday night. The Seahawks blasted the Los Angeles Chargers 48-17 in their opener, and put on display one of their new acquisitions: Blair Walsh. After the Vikings cut Walsh in frustration after a few missed field goals and extra points last season, the Seahawks picked him up. In the 48-17 romp, Walsh kicked 42-yard and 28-yard field goals, and six extra points to singlehandedly account for 12 points.