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College football preview: UMD becoming QB U

Drew Bauer is the quarterback of the UMD football team. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The 2016 Minnesota Duluth football team hasn’t played its first game yet, but 12 to 15 NFL teams already have shown interest in Bulldogs offensive lineman Peter Bateman and quarterback Drew Bauer.

“Everybody is asking about both,” UMD football coach Curt Wiese said. “It’s exciting, and it’s rewarding for guys like Pete and Drew who have been staples of our football program.”

The NFL interest hasn’t affected these seniors one bit, according to their coaches and teammates.

Bauer’s focus since he arrived on campus from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., has been the same, to win a national championship. That quest begins at 7 p.m. today when he leads the 19th-ranked Bulldogs into their season opener at Southwest Minnesota State.

Bauer said if he does his job, everything will take care of itself.

“Absolutely,” he said. “You got to have a good senior year.”

UMD has been spoiled at quarterback.

Just how spoiled?

The Bulldogs have had three straight four-year starters at the position in Bauer (2013-16), Chase Vogler (09-12) and Ted Schlafke (05-08). How many other programs can say that?

Vogler came in as a true freshman in 2009 after starter Jon Lynch broke his arm early in the second game of the season, while Bauer missed the last three games of the 2015 season with a concussion.

But other than that, it’s been Bauer, Vogler or Schlafke under center for UMD since 2005.

Schlafke led the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Division II title in 2008, Vogler to a second title in 2010. Bauer, meanwhile, has led UMD to two NCAA playoff appearances, including a trip to the national quarterfinals in 2014.

“There were definitely some very talented guys who came before me,” Bauer said, “but the main thing those guys have that I don’t have yet is a national title. You talk about all the great quarterbacks at every level, and it’s about winning a state title, a national title or a Super Bowl. The main statistic for a quarterback is wins.”

Adding former quarterback Ricky Fritz (1998-2002) to the mix, and UMD has had four four-year starters in the past 18 seasons.

Don’t expect too much to change this fall under first-year UMD offensive coordinator Noah Pauley, a Duluth native and UMD alum who understands the Bulldogs’ penchant for power football.

After Bauer was injured last year, receiver Nate Ricci filled in at quarterback to save a year of eligibility for freshmen Mike Rybarczyk and Ben Everhart.

Rybarczyk and Everhart will back up Bauer this year, while Ricci, a 6-foot junior, returns to receiver full time, giving Bauer another quality target.

With the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Bateman and Co., Wiese said the Bulldogs are as deep as they have ever been on the offensive line. UMD is solid at tight end with Keynon Phillips and Tyler Lattery, while Beau Bofferding and Jason Balts join Ricci in the receiving mix. UMD also added Northern Iowa transfer D.J. Hebert.

“The coaches have told us this is probably the best offseason we’ve ever had,” Bofferding said. “Football is an everyday thing here, and we gave it a big commitment to train. We probably had close to 80 guys stay up here this summer. I enjoy the process. It’s fun. It’s what it takes to be successful, and where you separate yourself from everyone else.”

Senior Darren Walker will start at tailback in his second year with the Bulldogs. UMD added Keith Anthony, a Minnesota native who played two years of junior college football at Laney College in Oakland, Calif., to go along with freshman Jaleen Jones. Bofferding will continue to get snaps out of the backfield.

“Tailback is the one position right now where we’re pretty thin,” Wiese said. “Darren is a different player than he was last year, so we’re expecting big things from him.”

Ultimately, this team will go as far as Bauer leads them. It is a responsibility the two-time captain enjoys.

“I’m just as vocal as I’ve ever been,” he said. “Every year I feel more and more comfortable.”

Bauer grew up within a mile of where Vogler grew up in Inver Grove Heights. Because of school boundaries, Bauer went to Eagan High School and Vogler to Rosemount.

Bauer is 30-6 as a starter since arriving at UMD in 2012. He is fourth in program history in total offense (8,086 yards) and career passing (5,640), with Schlafke, Fritz and Vogler ahead of him. Bauer’s 2,446 career rushing yards rank just outside the top 10 and have him on pace to pass Vogler as the Bulldogs’ all-time rushing quarterback.

Bauer has the size, mobility and arm strength NFL scouts like.

“Drew is an accurate passer and terrific decision maker,” Wiese said. “We don’t do a ton of dropback passes, but it’s not that Drew can’t do it, and if it’s one thing he has continued to work on every year, it’s being a better leader. He’s been outstanding to coach.”

Bauer will graduate next spring with a degree in organizational management, with a minor in marketing. He won’t rule out coaching.

Mature and serious for his age, Bauer’s wisdom belies his years.

“It’s surreal being a senior,” Bauer said. “Every time you come out here, it’s going to be your last of something, so you’ve got to make the most of it. You don’t want to take anything for granted.

“My time at UMD has been great, but I haven’t accomplished what I initially came here to do. That’s what this year is for. We’re pushing for that national title. Our eyes are set on that goal.”

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