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Folkert is bulldozer for Bulldogs

Minnesota Duluth guard Nolan Folkert (71) eyes up the Northern State defense on Saturday at Malosky Stadium. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Ron Dayne, Tony Dorsett and Adrian Peterson were all great college running backs, and while Minnesota Duluth’s Nolan Folkert will never be confused with them, he has one stat line that can’t be beat.

Four carries, four touchdowns.

“Four times, four yards, four touchdowns. Doesn’t get any better than that,” Folkert said. “100 percent.”

Folkert, normally a starting UMD guard, is putting his 6-foot-4, 295-pound services to use in other ways this fall for UMD (6-1), which has won six straight going into its NSIC North Division football showdown against Bemidji State (6-1) at 1:05 p.m. Saturday at Malosky Stadium. The winner will be in the driver’s seat toward an NCAA Division II playoff berth. The loser, probably out. Let the hype begin.

“It’s a really big game. Our guys know that,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “Bemidji is a big game any year we play regardless of record. It’s a rival of ours. It’s a good coaching staff. It’s a hard-nosed football team. They are well-coached, they play hard and they’re physical. Bemidji is exactly that.”

If it comes down to a short-yardage situation, don’t be surprised if Folkert gets the ball after scoring twice during the Bulldogs’ 39-19 homecoming victory over Northern State on Saturday.

Older Minnesota Vikings fans will remember Leroy Hoard, who reportedly once said, “Coach, if you need one yard, I’ll get you three yards. If you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.”

In almost all these situations, UMD will be happy with just one.

“It’s a lineman’s dream to carry the ball,” Folkert said. “Coach Wiese gave me the opportunity and wanted me to score from a yard out, and it’s been four times now. I’ll take it.”

Folkert is following in a long line of UMD linemen-turned-running backs. Last year senior nose guard Jonathan Harden rushed eight times for 11 yards and five touchdowns. And no, he never lost yards. The tackled for loss stat doesn’t apply to these hogs.

Harden is now a UMD assistant.

“Jon is always having fun with me, smiling and giving me a high-five when I come off the field,” Folkert said. “All the lineman love when I get the ball, they absolutely love it. They always give me a hard time, saying ‘Don’t click your knee braces together, Nolan, don’t fall on the ground.’ You’ve got to keep your feet wide.”

And blast. That’s what it’s all about. Blasting ahead.

There was a reason Folkert was chosen for this mission, with special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach Greg Bower recommending him, based on Folkert’s powerful skill-set.

To quote NFL Films, Folkert isn’t a water bug or whippet back; those types can’t withstand the howl and wail of the banshee. Make no mistake, Folkert is a Brahma bull.

“It’s fun to see an offensive lineman score a touchdown, but schematically, we feel good about giving Nolan the football and having enough push with the guys we have up front,” Wiese said. “Nolan is an explosive offensive lineman. He has a similar explosiveness to Jon Harden, and in that package, that’s what you need. He’s a 300-pound offensive lineman with good feet, and he does a good job keeping his pads down.”

Folkert is starting to get a following, call it Folks for Folkert. Last week fans were clamoring for Folkert to get the ball when the Bulldogs were three yards out.

“You know, three yards isn’t beyond my range, but I don’t know if Coach Wiese trusts me with that much range yet,” Folkert said. “I’m known for just running and diving, pretty much. I don’t know if I’m tall enough to get three yards.”

Don’t stereotype offensive linemen, but for those scoring at home, 6-foot-4 is about two yards.

And with a step or two, who knows?

“I’m talented, but we’ll just see if Coach Wiese trusts me,” Folkert said. “Maybe I could pull out a spin move or juke, but I don’t have the speed for anything too fancy. I just run downhill.”

Folkert is in the right town.

Folkert was asked if he has talked to Harden for advice on how to stiff-arm or strike a Heisman pose.

“I’ve been talking to him a little bit,” Folkert confirmed. “I’ve got to get two more touchdowns to beat his record here.”

For the record, UMD doesn’t keep a specific stat for 300-pounders scoring touchdowns.

Folkert usually lines up behind Peter Bateman, an NFL prospect, and former Duluth East standout Joe Yernatich, Folkert’s backup. Three yards and a cloud of dust? Try one yard and a Chevy half-ton.

“I just have to run behind those two and it’s right into the end zone,” Folkert said. “You don’t expect an offensive or defensive lineman to carry the ball. Stuff like that surprises teams. It’s worked amazingly. Once you’ve got the momentum of 295 pounds going, you’re not stopping it.”

Folkert, of Elgin, Minn., hasn’t quit his day job. He is in his second year as UMD’s starting left guard. Wiese said he had as good an offseason as any Bulldog. And he was good before. Now he wants to be great. Scoring an occasional touchdown is just a bonus.

“He’s a great player who loves to make plays wherever it is, whether it’s in the backfield or on the offensive line,” UMD senior quarterback Drew Bauer said. “I’m just glad to be behind him. I put my trust in him and the offensive line, and they’ve played exceptionally well.”

In UMD’s run-heavy scheme, spearheaded by the quarterback, if you would have asked someone if they thought a guard would have as many touchdowns (four) as Bauer has at this point in the season, they would have laughed.

“It’s all in what Coach Wiese decides to call in our scheme,” Bauer said. “Every time Nolan has gotten the ball, though, he has done well.”

Bauer was asked about the extent of Folkert’s abilities, and it was clear. Let’s not get crazy here.

While Folkert may have become the envy of all his linemen friends, sometimes a person just has to accept his limitations.

How about an end around?

Option right?

Jet sweep?

Bauer smiled while shaking his head and giving an emphatic, “No.”

He said it

The Bulldogs have a group of playmakers at wide receiver fans arguably haven’t seen since the Battaglia brothers, Steve and Tim, were roaming Griggs Field.

Junior Nate Ricci set up one of Folkert’s TDs last week by hauling in a one-handed reception on Saturday that would have been worthy of the ESPN highlight reel.

“The play Nate made to get to the 1-yard line may be as good of a catch as I’ve seen,” Wiese said.

Wiese laughed when it was pointed out that two weeks ago he said the same thing about sophomore wide receiver Jason Balts, who made a ridiculous one-handed grab with a defender draped all over him to score a touchdown in UMD’s 42-34 victory over Minnesota State-Moorhead.

“That may be as good as I’ve seen as well, it was just a little different,” Wiese said. “Nate was off the ground on his play, with a one-handed catch, back-shoulder throw. We work on back-shoulder throws all the time. We never work on them one-handed, obviously.”

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