Plenty of new faces as MSU football opens fall camp

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State football head coach Mike Aldrich (right) directs the Beavers first fall practice of the new season Monday afternoon at Herb Parker Stadium in Minot.

The first recruiting class for second-year Minot State football head coach Mike Aldrich was a hefty one. The Beavers opened their first fall practice of the new season at Herb Park Stadium on Monday with 49 newcomers.

While Aldrich wanted and certainly recruited quantity, he believes the Beavers got sufficient quality as well.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement with it being Day 1 and a lot of new bodies,” Aldrich said. “That was kind of the plan (to have a large recruiting class). We knew we were graduating about 19 guys and we knew the class behind them was pretty small too. So, we knew we had to build up pretty substantially.

“There are two ways to do it. You can bring in a lot of guys you really like and you figure out a way to do that with your funds, or you bring in half really good and half guys just to be guys. We feel pretty good with everybody that came in, whether they’re a walk-on or a scholarship kid. They can all contribute for us.”

That could be on game day, the practice squad or somewhere in between. There are a handful of roles to be filled with only five seniors on the roster.

So, while Aldrich has more new players to work with, that comes with a trade-off.

“We have a lot of excited guys and a pretty young team,” he said. “But, the more youth we play, the more we kind of have to manage some of their ups-and-downs emotionally.”

The new Beavers at least made a good first impression Monday morning.

“We are definitely a much more athletic team,” Aldrich said. “We did some conditioning work this morning and I was pleasantly surprised by the shape of our incoming freshmen, who haven’t even worked out with us yet. But, we still have a lot of answers to figure out here in the next three weeks or so.”

MSU football went 3-8 last season in Aldrich’s first season at the helm. The Beavers haven’t won more than three games in a single season since joining the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in 2012.

They ended the 2017 season on a high note by defeating St. Cloud State on the road, 23-13. All three of the Beavers’ victories last season came away from home.

“Season two is always the challenging one,” Aldrich said. “The first year everything is new and there is an excitement that comes with change… In the second year, maybe some of that newness and excitement with change has worn off a little bit. Now, it’s more of getting into that consistency of exactly what our program is about.”

Position battles to watch

The departure of six-year senior Zac Cunha makes the competition for the starting quarterback job a hot topic leading up to the Beavers’ first game on August 30.

For now, the position is still up for grabs.

“We got four guys who are all coming back from the fall and the spring to compete for that job,” Aldrich said. “Plus, we have a really good freshman too. Hopefully, we don’t have to throw him into the mix, but he knows he can compete for it too. So, it’s an exciting battle and all of our guys at that position are kind of the same — athletic and are going to be able to run the football a lot more than what we did last year. We still had some success with Zac (Cunha), but he was much more of a strong-armed kid where these guys can give us another running back on the field.”

Senior Andy Jones comes back with the most experience and played in six games last year. He threw for 274 yards on 25-for-46 passing and rushed for 95 yards.

Jones has been challenged by University of North Dakota transfer and former Minot High quarterback Ben Bolinske over the spring. Bolinske, a sophomore, lined up and played some wide receiver at the end of last season for the Beavers.

Also in the running are junior Kylar Sharp, coming off a redshirt season last year, and redshirt freshman Sean Kuenzinger.

The Beavers are in need of new playmakers as well with the graduation of running back Larry Overstreet and wide receiver Ryan Fila.

On the defensive side of the ball, Aldrich is looking for a core of defensive backs to emerge.

“We graduated three, so we got a lot of holes to fill,” he said. “The one guy coming back, Kiante Goudeau, is probably our marquee guy with all the accolades. But, we got a couple of seniors and a bunch of youth guys to go back there. To tell you how that one is going to shake out because there are so many spots, I couldn’t tell you.”

The Beavers kickoff the 2018 season against the University of Minnesota Duluth at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, August 30, at Herb Parker Stadium.

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