It's hard to look past the upper body of Minot State University senior offensive lineman Mitch Haugeberg - the meaty forearms, the broad chest, the grinning round face.
However, said MSU offensive line coach Scott MacDonald, it's what the 6-foot-3, 293-pounder can do with his feet that makes him "special."
"What is unique about (Haugeberg) is he's big, but he's also very fast and very athletic, so that's what surprises people," MacDonald said. "You don't expect guys that big to move that well. When a guy's 300 pounds, looks 270 and runs like a kid who's 180 pounds, that's special."
Minot State University senior left guard Mitch Haugeberg works on a blocking technique during the Beavers’ first fall practice Thursday at Herb Parker Stadium. Haugeberg has started 29 of 31 games in his career.
Haugeberg is the most experienced member of the Beavers' most game-tested unit. Seven returning offensive lineman have seen significant playing time, led by left guard Haugeberg, who has started 29 of 31 games since arriving on campus.
"Mitch anchors our offensive line, he really does," said Chad Marshall, a junior linebacker and MSU's top returning tackler. "He's a great player and anybody you talk to - coaches, players throughout our conference - are gonna tell you the same thing. I feel like he's the leader of that offense."
Haugeberg, a Minot High School graduate, said the linemates' closeness makes them a better unit.
"We're all close friends," Haugeberg said. "We get along well, we hang out together and that makes us a better chemistry team all together."
In addition to Haugeberg, junior Kyle Stein (6-5, 285) and seniors Sergio Magana (6-2, 265), Ade Sobande (6-1, 310) and Matt Callan (6-5, 285) could start along the offensive front. Junior Bobby Bartz (6-3, 275) and senior Kris Firey (6-0, 276) also have substantial experience.
"All seven of those guys are legit football players that can play in the Northern Sun conference," MacDonald said, "and I think that benefits us, because being an O-lineman (is) a position where you can sometimes get injuries and depth is a concern. Well, we have that depth."
MacDonald said Haugeberg and his fellow linemen grew accustomed to a faster pace of play as they transitioned from the NAIA to NCAA Division II. The Beavers join the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this season.
Haugeberg, along with Marshall, was featured on the NSIC's preseason "players to watch" list.
"He's pretty adept at getting up on (linebackers) and he's a good double-teamer," MSU head coach Paul Rudolph said. "He's got good feet and he moves around well. He's a good, quality player; he's not gonna take a backseat to anybody in the league."
For Haugeberg, the opportunity to play in the NSIC - which features schools in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska - is a thrilling way to end a productive career.
"It's exciting," he said. "We're going out and we're playing against the best guys in the surrounding states. There couldn't be more that I could ask for, being a Minot boy and going to play (the University of) Mary and surrounding, close towns."
Jorgenson has slight edge in QB battle
Sophomores Bryce Jorgenson and C.J. Evans split snaps at quarterback in 2011, but Rudolph has said he'd prefer for one player to distance himself and give MSU a consistent starter.
Before the Beavers' first practice Thursday, Rudolph said Jorgenson is in the lead but a lot could happen before MSU's August 30 opener against Minnesota State University-Mankato.
"If we were to start today, Bryce would probably start," Rudolph said. "He was a little more consistent (during spring practice). Is he heads and tails better? No. But he was probably better through the course of 15 practices and if we started today, he'd start. ... August 30, whether he's the starter or not - that remains to be seen."