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College football: UMD springs ahead to fall

The recent spate of gloomy weather might remind some of late fall, but the Minnesota Duluth football team is thrilled today’s forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s.

That’s because the Bulldogs will host their 43rd annual Maroon-White Spring Game at 6 p.m. at Malosky Stadium.

“It’ll be good,” UMD coach Curt Wiese assured.

The spring game always has been about the fans, giving them a first glimpse of what the team will look like next fall.

UMD’s offensive backfield will have a different look with the departure of quarterback Drew Bauer, the third straight four-year starter the Bulldogs have featured under center.

Sophomore Mike Rybarczyk has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Bauer, taking the majority of first-team snaps this spring, while freshman John Larson and sophomore Ben Everhart are also in the mix.

“Mike has continued to develop as a leader and made quite a few throws this spring he wasn’t making last fall,” Wiese said. “John and Ben have shown signs they’re capable, but they’re in need of more reps and film time. It doesn’t mean that they can’t get there, but Mike’s stock has risen throughout this spring.”

With senior Nate Ricci and junior Jason Balts, Wiese said the Bulldogs are as talented at wide receiver as they’ve ever been, so whoever gets the nod at QB will have receiving threats.

“It’s been different breaking in a new quarterback and having that battle, but it’s also been energizing,” Wiese said. “I’m trying to make sure these guys are playing within themselves and not necessarily always trying to make a big play.”

Quarterback isn’t the only position with new faces as freshmen Austin Sylvester and Griffin Hill vie at running back. With Rybarczyk and Hill, it’d be an all-Illinois backfield.

Wiese enjoyed watching his team pick sides for today’s game.

“Every player who got picked was added to the war room, so to speak,” Wiese said. “It’s no different than the playground in third and fourth grade, picking the team for kickball. It was interesting to see who our team believes are leaders and playmakers within our program.”

Duo drawing NFL interest

Bauer and former UMD running back Darren Walker have received NFL interest going into next week’s draft.

They worked out for Vikings, Packers and Saints scouts at a Pro Day last month at Minnetonka (Minn.) High School, where Bulldogs athletic Hall of Famer Dave Nelson is the football coach.

“It’s awesome,” Wiese said. “Hopefully one of these guys can stick.”

Wiese said it was UMD’s Pro Day, but 16 players reportedly took part, including players from six NSIC schools and four NCAA Division III schools. Bauer ran the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds and had a 31-inch vertical jump, while Walker clocked 4.64 and jumped 29 inches.

“Both those guys may be in the same boat where they are priority free agents after the draft,” Wiese said.

That would mean signing a professional contract to enter rookie camp in early May, the same route Duluth native C.J. Ham took last year in landing with the Vikings.

“The advantage of doing that early is that if it doesn’t work out with one team, you may end up having an opportunity with somebody else,” Wiese said.

UMD hasn’t had a player drafted since offensive tackle Brent Griffith was taken in the seventh round by the Buffalo Bills in 1990. Wiese said former UMD offensive tackle Peter Bateman would have had an excellent chance of being drafted but has moved on from football. Bateman suffered a knee injury in the regular-season finale last fall.

Bauer, 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., set a single-season program record with 3,421 passing yards last fall. He finished second on UMD’s all-time passing chart with 9,061 yards.

Walker, 5-8 and 200 pounds, of Inglewood, Calif., rushed for 1,319 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons with the Bulldogs.

Bauer and Walker are still finishing school at UMD. Bauer has been helping out at spring practice.

“It’s been a great thing for us and for our quarterbacks to learn from him,” Wiese said. “He has continued to provide leadership and guidance. Hopefully those guys can get in camp and make a run at it, because it’d be awesome to watch.”

Maroon-White Spring Game

What: Minnesota Duluth’s 43rd annual intrasquad scrimmage

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Malosky Stadium

Cost: Admission is free, but fans are asked to bring a food or clothing item to donate to Champ’s Cupboard

Pregame: UMD will host a free youth football clinic for children grades 3-8 from 4-5:45 p.m.; parking after 2:30 p.m. is free in Maroon Lot G (the UMD pay lot) and the White S Lots on St. Marie Street

Forecast: Sunny and 55 degrees

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