Football season kicks off

GEARING UP: Football team prepares for second year in Big Sky Conference.

While the vast majority of the UND’s student population has slowly descended upon the city of Grand Forks in the past week in preparation for a new semester, the UND football team has already been hard at work for the past month, making preparations for its sophomore season in the Big Sky Conference.

Ninety-five members of the Green and White reported to fall camp Aug. 1 and hit the ground running with a grueling daily grind of practice that lead up to their opening kick-off against Valparaiso on August 29th. Chris Mussman returned for his sixth season as UND head coach and set the tempo right away in fall camp in order to help the team improve from a 3-5 (5-6 overall) mark in the Big Sky.

“In this league, you have to come ready to play from the start and be able to finish the entire 60 minutes,” Mussman said. “That is going to be a big emphasis for us and a lot of that has to do with developing our depth and improving our talent level, so we have multiple impact players across the board.”

UND’s 2012 squad was a team that relied heavily on its passing game, as was evident when the team set four records in the passing category. The Green and White threw for 3,268 yards, surpassing the previous school record, which had been set in 2003 with 2,741 yards, in addition to setting school records in passing touchdowns (30), passing yards per game (297.1) and completions (250).

One major hurdle UND will face when attempting to duplicate its offensive numbers from last season will be the fact that it doesn’t have a quarterback that has completed a pass in a collegiate game. Ryan Bartels, Jake Hanson and Joe Mollberg are all rookie quarterbacks that will be expected to share the ball in 2013. Despite their lack of experience, North Dakota has a wealth of returning veterans on the offensive side of the ball that should more than reinforce its young QBs.

Senior offensive lineman Joe Kleason, who was a two-year starter before missing most of last season with a foot injury, will return to help protect UND’s rookie QBs in the front. Classmate Darren Deneui will return to start at right tackle after missing spring drills due to a foot injury, but recovered in time for fall camp. North Dakota will also return a key offensive figure in senior running back Jake Miller, who led the 2012 Green and White in rushing with 543 yards.

North Dakota’s defense has undergone major changes with new leadership under defensive coordinator Josh Kotelnicki, who previously spent eight seasons as an assistant coach.

UND’s defense returns six starters from last season but also will look to fill the shoes of three key graduated seniors who anchored the defensive line. UND will look to Spencer Cummings, Seth Stanchik and Ben Henson to fill these shoes and while the three have not started a lot of football games at UND, all three have played in 20 plus games for North Dakota and will be expected to step up and solidify the defense.

No preparation for an upcoming football season comes without growing pains and despite the loss of some talent and lack of experience in some positions, the 2013 Big Sky season will prove to be an exciting one for players and fans alike.

David Butz is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]