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Five UMD players suspended for one game following weekend party

UMD football coach Curt Wiese describes disciplinary measures for football team members who were issued citations for drinking during a recent party. (Bob King / )

Five Minnesota Duluth football players will miss Saturday’s season opener against Concordia-St. Paul after receiving one-game suspensions for taking part in a weekend party that led to dozens of citations for underage drinking.

In addition, two players were stripped of their captaincies following the party late Sunday night at 1010 E. Ninth St. in Duluth.

Police said Monday that 50 people were cited for underage drinking, though the exact number and the names of those cited have not yet been released pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation. About 25 of those were UMD football players. Police estimated at least 75 people were at the party when officers arrived, following up on a noise complaint.

“We had a lot of guys at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bulldogs coach Curt Wiese said at a Tuesday news conference.

In addition to the one-game suspensions, those five players will be docked athletic scholarship money. Though Wiese declined to reveal the names of the suspended players or the former captains, linebacker Gavin Grady and offensive guard Andrew Muer are no longer listed as captains on UMD’s website.

Wiese confirmed the party was hosted by UMD football players.

“This is on our guys,” he said. “They made the mistake, and now they have to deal with the consequences of the mistake they made. We hold a couple carrots over these guys’ heads, playing time and scholarship money are two of them. We hope this hits home. We set a tone. Our players needed to be made an example of.”

Matt Nevanen, a Hillside community officer with the Duluth Police Department, spoke with media Tuesday about the incident. He was one of about six officers at the scene. They had everyone who was 21 or older, or not drinking, exit the building first while they administered preliminary breath tests. That took about an hour and a half, Nevanen said.

“It was pretty much the same as every college party we go to — loud,” Nevanen said. “But there were some giant guys, so we figured it out pretty quick they were college football players. After the fourth or fifth guy came out who was like 6-5 and 300 pounds, (we figured) they must be athletes of some sort.”

Nevanen said the two districts around UMD had 32 party calls over the weekend as students moved in for fall semester, which started Tuesday. More than 100 citations for underage drinking were issued.

“The weekend was fairly tame compared to years past,” Nevanen said. “Anyone who has worked the college neighborhoods knows we don’t get a lot of cooperation from the parties, so a point we wanted to make with the football party was that they were very cooperative. As good as it got all weekend.”

That was little consolation to Wiese.

“Underage consumption is unfortunately a relatively common thing. It’s happened before, but we hold our players to a higher standard,” said Wiese, who added that the suspended players were regulars on the team. “I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in our senior leadership. I’m disappointed in our captains for allowing this to happen. These guys made a big mistake.”

Former UMD coach Bob Nielson received criticism in the Division II football world for how he handled a situation involving Robbie Aurich, an All-America linebacker who was charged for obstructing the legal process and disorderly conduct in October 2010 after an altercation with two police officers at Grandma’s Sports Garden. Aurich was stripped of his captaincy but played in all 15 games that year as the Bulldogs won their second national championship. He later pled guilty to obstructing the legal process.

Wiese said Tuesday he wanted to be consistent in the way he dealt with his players, so that a star player is treated the same as one who doesn’t even play.

UMD didn’t practice Monday but the coach called the players in for a team meeting followed by extensive conditioning work. Afterward, the coaching staff gathered all the information about the party and met with the five suspended players individually.

The Bulldogs, the six-time defending Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division champions, play Concordia at 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Malosky Stadium.

“We’ve heard a lot about how this unfortunately happened during the season,” Wiese said. “That’s not my take. It’s unfortunate this happened at all. It doesn’t matter where we’re at in the season. Our guys shouldn’t behave like that.”

Sikorski returns to practice In other developments, senior running back Austin Sikorski returned to practice Friday but isn’t expected to play in Saturday’s opener. Sikorski, the NSIC North Division preseason offensive player of the year, was stabbed in the abdomen during an altercation in downtown Duluth earlier this month. He led the Bulldogs with 1,260 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns last season.