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Bulldogs football announces latest recruiting class

Minnesota Duluth football coach Bob Nielson was asked on Wednesday if recruiting had changed since his previous stint as Bulldogs coach just more than four years ago.

Minnesota Duluth football coach Bob Nielson was asked on Wednesday if recruiting had changed since his previous stint as Bulldogs coach just more than four years ago.

"I still catch myself saying videotape," Nielson said. "Nobody is using videotape anymore. That's how we used to watch players, but now it's all on DVD."

While technology has changed, Nielson's eye for spotting talent hasn't, and on Wednesday he unveiled his first recruiting class since being named Bulldogs' coach on Jan. 3 -- the same position he held from 1999-2003.

The class is heavy on linebackers, with six of UMD's 22 recruits listed at that position. The Bulldogs graduated three starting linebackers with a combined 11 years of experience, and while most of this year's class will be redshirted, some players could provide immediate relief.

The class also features three running backs, perhaps signaling a return to a more balanced offensive scheme under Nielson after three seasons of spread formations that heavily favored the pass. One of those recruits, Derek Borgen of Barron, Wis., has run the 100 meters in 10.64 seconds.

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Nielson said the Bulldogs will continue to actively recruit and still are seeking kicking help after graduating four-year starters in kicker Britt Baumann and punter Luke Radke.

Among the notable linebackers is Tony Parker, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder from Mora, Minn., who was a three-time Rum River Conference football selection. Despite his size, he also excelled in track, earning all-conference honors in the 100 and 200 meters, as well as the long jump and 800-meter relay.

Another linebacker, Steve Slater of Young America, Minn., is the son of Mark Slater, a center on the Philadelphia Eagles' 1981 Super Bowl team. The younger Slater helped lead Glencoe-Silver Lake High School to consecutive Class AAA state titles.

UMD defensive coordinator John Steger said the time from when coach Bubba Schweigert left UMD for Southern Illinois to Nielson's appointment was about 36 hours, meaning recruits were never in doubt about the direction of the program.

"There really never was a limbo phase for us," Steger said. "Bubba built the foundation, and when he left, Bob basically took over right away and kept the ball rolling.

"I've been here 10 years and look at this as one of our top recruiting classes. We had nine commitments by Christmas, which is as many as we've ever had."

Other recruits

* UMD has two recruits who hail from outside Minnesota or Wisconsin: running backs Jo Jo Sweet of Gainsville, Ga., and Mitchel Van Ramshorst of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

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Sweet rushed for 1,442 yards and 19 touchdowns in a state rich in football talent. His mother is from Hibbing, and he has other relatives in the area.

Van Ramshorst, who ran for nearly 2,000 yards last fall, is believed to be the second Canadian to join the UMD program. The other, running back Marek Seta, had a year remaining of eligibility but has left the team.

* The Bulldogs have landed three of the top players from the Wisconsin Valley Conference, one of the top football leagues in the state. They are defensive lineman Joe Akey, defensive back Jordan Hoekstra and offensive lineman Jordan Marriott.

* Steger said the Wisconsin Badgers wanted UMD recruit Darnell Small to walk on. Small, a 6-3, 215-pound defensive end from Madison, is friends and basketball teammates with La Follette High School senior Cashton Craig, who Wishoops.net recently reported made a verbal commitment to play basketball with the Bulldogs.

* Chad Strilzuk, a 6-1, 190-pound defensive back from Balsam Lake, Wis., is the younger brother of UMD junior cornerback Cole Strilzuk.

Bulldog bytes

* UMD running back Rob Casasnovas, one of three running backs to play as a true freshman for the Bulldogs last fall, received a medical redshirt after injuring his shoulder and has four years of eligibility remaining.

* Minnesota-Crookston has signed Duluth East defensive back Myles Gorham and Floodwood tight end Josh Tahja, in addition to Cromwell defensive back Cody Hendrickson.

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JON NOWACKI covers college sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at jnowacki@duluthnews.com .

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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