MSU QB Cunha guaranteed nothing entering final season

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State senior quarterback Zac Cunha throws a pass during a college football practice Thursday in Minot.

Minot State sixth-year senior quarterback Zac Cunha never envisioned he’d be in this position.

The Rocklin, Calif. native was already entering last season with something to prove after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 1 of the 2015 season. Yet, his 2016 comeback effort ended prematurely after injuring his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in Week 2, causing him to miss the remainder of the year.

“Honestly, when that injury happened, I thought I was done (playing college football),” Cunha said. “I didn’t think I could get another medical redshirt.”

However, the NCAA granted Cunha a medical hardship in the offseason, allowing him to return to the Beavers for a sixth and final season. For real, this time.

“It’s definitely the last one,” Cunha said with a laugh.

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State junior quarterback Andy Jones, center, prepares to throw a pass to a receiver in drills during practice. Jones hopes to compete for the starting quarterback job this fall.

Cunha has started for MSU since the school transitioned to Division II and has seen a career with plenty of ups and downs. In his collegiate career, he’s thrown for 39 touchdowns, 37 interceptions and 6,016 yards. The arrival of new head coach Mike Aldrich marks the fourth head coach Cunha has seen in his MSU tenure.

And now, he’s going to have to fight ferociously just to earn the starting job this fall. Chalk it up to another obstacle for one of the most interesting athletes in Minot to overcome.

“I think that’s one of the things I have on my side,” Cunha said. “Obviously, I’ve been through a lot. I had a lot of experiences, and I was able to fail a lot. That’s how you learn is when you fail. I’m hoping to use that and have a successful season.”

Cunha’s knee kept him from participating in spring football, giving his main competition and Southern Utah transfer Andy Jones the majority of the spring reps. Factor University of North Dakota transfer and Minot native Ben Bolinske into the equation and the quarterback competition could be a dogfight to the end.

“We’re still exactly where we were coming out of the spring in that it’s an open competition at quarterback,” Aldrich said. “Zac Cunha didn’t really have a chance to have a fair shake at the competition in the spring but he 100 percent has an opportunity to compete for his job and get it back. Andy Jones comes in as the guy who led us in the spring and Ben Bolinske will also come in and compete.

“We have plenty of guys that will be gunning for it. I know it’s coaches’ speak, but it’s truly wide open. Going into our game week, we’ll have it decided by then.”

But Cunha probably has the most experience of any quarterback in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, let alone the most on his own team. He also confirmed his knee is back to 100 percent and has no intention of relinquishing his job.

“I think it’s fair that the job is an open competition,” Cunha said. “We’re all competing for the same spot. It’s a great group. Ben transferring in here from UND is pretty cool. He’s a good guy to work with along with the other three. The competition pushes us to be better can only be a good thing.

“I’m just happy to be here again. I’m glad it all worked out. I’m excited to compete and hopefully play another season.”

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter