HODGE: MSU football in best position since moving to Division II

After working with his players for hours, Minot State football coach Mike Aldrich usually likes to end his practices by giving the team a word of the day.

His word on Thursday, the first day of fall camp, was all too telling of the direction of the Beaver program: beginning.

What, exactly, this season marks the beginning of is entirely up to MSU’s players and coaching staff.

Will this be the beginning of a multi-year rebuilding process that ultimately ends with the Beavers being competitive in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference? Or will it end up being a footnote in a stretch of futility that has plagued MSU ever since its transition to Division II?

There’s a few signs the result will end up being the former.

For instance, there’s currently competent leadership in place that genuinely appears to want to be in Minot. The last six years have screamed instability with four different head coaches, but Aldrich appears committed to the MSU program. He wanted the job when it was available in 2014 and was named a finalist, but Minnesota State Mankato coach Todd Hoffner was hired instead. We all know how that went.

In any case, MSU didn’t pass on hiring Aldrich – who has shown the ability to win in the NSIC with a 23-11 record at Augustana University – this time. He also wisely kept assistant coaches Shane LaDage, Joe Dale and Nick Nissen on staff, considering that trio played a major role in convincing 2017 recruits to stay committed to Minot State after former coach Tyler Hughes resigned in December.

Speaking of recruits, the Beavers brought in several talented local players and transfers, an avenue that was seemingly neglected in the past. The recruits include but are not limited to, Bismarck running back Lucas Butts, Minot defensive back/running back Manuel Bradford, Division I transfers Ben Bolinske and Matt Marler.

Who knows how the careers of these players turns out, but it at least gives MSU fans something to be optimistic about for the future.

As for the 2017 season, these Beavers aren’t going to compete for a conference championship, but they could be much more competitive than they have in the past. Depth has been an issue for MSU teams in previous years, but these Beavers should be deeper at quarterback, the offensive and defensive lines in addition to the secondary.

It’s a season that could develop into a building block for things to come at MSU.

This is the opinion of Garrick Hodge. He covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.