Building the dam

Spring football: Aldrich fixated on fixing the Beavers’ defense

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State linebacker Sam Stange (47) runs through the padded block provided by Fed Joseph (11) during spring practice on Wednesday at Herb Parker Stadium.

Overlooking the field at Herb Parker Stadium with his team below, Mike Aldrich liked what he saw from his office vantage point and couldn’t resist in directing a comment toward co-offensive coordinator Derek Edholm.

“You know, we are a lot better than what I was expecting,” the first-year Minot State head football coach said.

Edholm, also in his first season with the program and was brought in by Aldrich, responded back, “I completely agree with you.”

In that moment, the Beavers were gearing up for only their fifth spring practice with Aldrich at the helm.

“We were kind of coming into it thinking, ‘OK, here is a team that hasn’t had much success and it’s going to take some time to get the kinks worked out,'” Aldrich said. “But, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

It’s no secret that the past few seasons – well, ever since MSU moved up to Division II in 2011 – that times have been difficult for the Beavers on the gridiron. Bolstering a 12-53 overall record over the last six seasons, MSU was never won more than three Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference games in a single season.

Putting together a stout defense is what Aldrich wants to focus on to turn around the recent misfortunes. As a defensive minded coach, Aldrich has taken a hands-off approach to the offense and given Edholm and returning coach Shane LaDage, the other co-offensive coordinator, the green light.

“I told Shane (LaDage) and Derek (Edholm), ‘Here is what I want the offense to be known for and what I want us to be about, and some things I’d like to see,'” Aldrich said. “But, other than that, the keys to the car are theirs.”

Meanwhile, Aldrich has been busy implementing a new defensive scheme to attempt to limit the 34.45 points and 439.7 yards per game the Beavers allowed last season. The new approach has rejuvenated the players.

“It’s neat to have a defensive head coach,” defensive back Donnell Vercher said. “Football is football, but there is a difference between defense and offense. You got to have a different mentality and love that (Aldrich) has that mentality already. So, I can kind of fed off him and now learn more just because he is a defensive head coach and not just the head coach.”

Vercher led the team with 95 tackles last season, second in the NSIC, in his debut season as a junior. He played two seasons at Fresno City College before transferring and then redshirted the 2015 season.

“We have a unique opportunity to change the culture here at Minot State,” Vercher said. “If we win eight or nine games, it can change the whole mindset around this football team.”

Alongside Vercher, Bryce Broome is another soon-to-be senior defensive back that is glad to see a more galvanized locker room.

“You can tell that the change is definitely for the better,” Broome said. “The guys on the team are having more fun. We are having fun at practice, having fun just talking and being around each other. Basically, football is fun again.”

Broome racked up 78 tackles last season and will look to thrive under the new defensive scheme.

“I’ve been calling the same defense for 12-15 years,” Aldrich said. “It’s just a matter of teaching it. The kids have the most to learn because of all the terminology and what it all means. And it’s a lot different to what they ran here before. So, there is nothing for them to lean on for prior experience. But, I think that’s a good though because it’s kind of a fresh slate.”

As intricate as Aldrich makes his scheme sound, Vercher and Broome have been quick learners.

“There are some similarities, but overall it’s just ran more thoroughly,” Broome said. “You can tell it’s thought through. Whatever the situation is, we have a call or a play for it. Whatever the formation, we have a defense for it that we know will work and we are very confident in.”

Yet, only so much can be put to the test during a spring practice session. The Beavers get their first opportunity to show the community what they have been working on one week from now, as MSU hosts its annual Spring Game at 7 p.m. on April 27 at Herb Parker Stadium.

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.