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Bulldogs riding youth into bright future

UMD's second-year head football coach Bob Nielson expects and demands that his Bulldogs will be better this fall than they were last season when they wobbled to a 3-8 overall record.

UMD's second-year head football coach Bob Nielson expects and demands that his Bulldogs will be better this fall than they were last season when they wobbled to a 3-8 overall record.
Despite returning 17 starters from last year's team, Nielson's expectations will most likely be met only if youth is served in 2000.
Local newcomers like Tim Battaglia (Cloquet H.S.), Woody Seim (Cook County H.S.), Erik Anderson (Cook County H.S.), Jamie Otterblad (Silver Bay H.S.) and Josh Baker (Proctor H.S.) are all hoping to make an impact not only on this year's team, but on future UMD teams as well, meaning that, although the Bulldogs may not turn it all around this year, their future looks bright.
"It's going to be a team that gets better every week," said Nielson. "We feel a lot better about our depth and much of that is going to be accomplished by the new players that are coming in."
One of those new players, Baker, will be vying for playing time in the team's defensive backfield, and, after playing for a winning Proctor team throughout his entire high school career, the 6-foot, 3-inch freshman is expecting to pick up where he left off.
"We've all been on winning programs," said Baker, referring to himself, Seim, Anderson and Battaglia.
"And I just figure that we've come to expect winning."
This week, Baker and the rest of the true freshmen began their first college training camp, a unique experience to be sure, but one that Baker is taking in stride.
"It could be an intimidating experience, but I'm just having fun," he said. "I've just come to play and try to find my spot on this team."
One thing that made an immediate impression on Baker was the size of the players rumbling across Griggs Field during his first practices.
"Right away I noticed how much smaller I was compared to everybody else," Baker said.
At 185 pounds, Baker still has the frame of a high school defensive back. Weight training has never been a priority in Baker's life, but he's expecting that will change as soon as he gets acclimated to the grind of college football.
On the field, Baker is concentrating on channeling his excitement and maintaining his focus. It's probably a more difficult task for the low-key defensive back than he makes it look. His demeanor during the team's initial practices has been determined, which isn't at all out of character for the man who was often the last line of defense for the powerful Proctor Rails last season.
"I take pride in everything I do," said Baker. "And I know that what I do out here is going to reflect on what I did in Proctor."
So far, he hasn't let anyone down in either locale, but he insists that it will probably take him some time to find his game on the college gridiron.
"It'll probably be a couple of games before I figure out what I'm really doing," he said.
Baker, however, will not be alone searching for his college football comfort zone.
Freshmen quarterbacks Anderson and Reggie Stauss, a Michigan Tech transfer, are expected to be among the young players pushing for playing time, as is Battaglia, who will be joining his sophomore brother Steve Battaglia in the Bulldogs' receiving corps.
Impact veterans returning on the offensive side of the ball include sophomore quarterback Ricky Fritz, senior wide receiver Erik Hanson and senior tailback Erik Conner.
Conner, a Bulldogs co-captain, is expected to find some larger holes to run through this season thanks to the returning offensive line trio of Jon Jazdzewski, Peter Lawton and John Giles.
Defensively, the Bulldogs lost only one starter, but when that starter is an All-NSIC second team linebacker named Justin Wood, the impact is felt all over the field.
Veterans Jimmy Malo, Justin Hippel, Chris Markas, Andy Agrimson and Eric Wirtz are expected to fight for the linebacker role vacated by Wood.
Veterans Kevin Westbrock, Ryan Bailey and Nate Daigle will again be counted on to provide the Bulldogs with stopping power in the defensive backfield, while Nate Davis, Mike Tuisee and Dave Smith will anchor the defensive line.
In the coming weeks, those veterans, combined with the talented group of UMD rookies, will come together, each with hopes of making the team's future potential its current reality.
Nuggets
The Bulldogs, wearing maroon helmets for the first time in team history, will open their season on Sept. 2 against Minnesota State-Mankato, at Griggs Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
UMD will host three home games in a row to begin its 2000 season, all under the lights. After their opener against the Mavericks, the Bulldogs will take on St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Crookston in their conference opener.

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