The entire Minnesota Duluth football team was excited to take the field for the Bulldogs’ first practice of 2019 on Monday, as evidenced by all the chatter and cheering at Malosky Stadium, but perhaps nobody was more excited than quarterback John Larson.
Larson has been waiting for this a long time, too long he says, after suffering a season-ending leg injury Oct. 13 against Southwest Minnesota State.
“I’m 100 percent. I’m just ready to go,” said Larson, a junior from Braham, Minn. “It’s been too long for me not playing real football, that’s for sure. I’ve been watching a lot of football. I’m beyond excited. I’ve been waiting for this day. Once I got cleared in May, I was just ready for football to start.”
Against Southwest, Larson had what he called a “a double injury,” breaking his left leg and tearing three ligaments off the bone in his left ankle. Screws were inserted to repair it.
During spring ball the Bulldogs took it easy on Larson, one of five captains for UMD this fall, but there was no taking it easy Monday as the Bulldogs went through live drills in rapid-fire succession, machine-like in efficiency. After lifting weights and running four days a week this summer, the Bulldogs hit the ground running.
Nearby UMD volunteer assistants Scott Lyons and Scott “HB” Hanna talked about the old days when they played under legendary coach Jim Malosky. Much of the early practices were getting guys in shape, a task the tough-love Malosky relished (HB apparently hid in a tree one time to avoid one of Mo’s workout sessions).
“You don’t play college football to get in shape, not anymore,” Lyons said. “It’s more like a job now, and if they let them, they’d already be hitting today.”
Instead, it was helmets only, but there was still plenty of jostling between wide receivers and defensive backs.
“Summer is over, for us anyway,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said.
Wiese said Larson embraced his role as a captain this offseason, calling it “his team.” Last week Larson was named NSIC North Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
“With his mentality, it was tough for John to watch our playoff game at home last year, when he was a big part of the reason we got there,” Wiese said. “Now he’s anxious to get back and is looking forward to taking the next step as a leader for our team.”
Among the newcomers for UMD this year are transfers Joe Kordus (South Dakota) at outside linebacker, Nathan Bursch (Minnesota) on the defensive line, Barry Moreland (West Virginia) at defensive back and wide receivers Armani Carmickle and Quincy Woods from Northwest Missouri State.
“They’re talented,” Wiese said of Carmickle and Woods, whom the Bulldogs recruited out of high school. “The receiver position is competitive right now. We’ve got seven or eight guys who have game experience.”
That’s good news for Larson, who threw for 1,343 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 435 yards and five more scores in seven games last fall. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Larson is rugged and strong, having top lifts of 465 pounds in the squat, 275 in the clean and 265 in the bench.
New offensive coordinator Chase Vogler said that Larson is better than he was, and that’s high praise coming from Vogler, the playmaking quarterback who went 46-6 as a starter for UMD while leading the Bulldogs to the 2010 NCAA Division II championship.
Vogler said the strong-armed Larson could have a professional tryout in his future, and he sees Larson taking off now that the job is all his, unlike the open quarterback competitions that defined the previous two fall camps.
“He’s talented,” Vogler said. “He’s got a lot of tools. He’s got more arm talent than I did. He’s bigger and more physical, and everything is coming together on the other side of things, too. He’s got a better feel than maybe I did going into my junior year, and it’s fun for him, too. This is the first year where he’s the clear-cut starter. I was kind of in the same boat as John when I was a sophomore. Now he can worry more about himself, instead of worrying about trying to beat out another guy.”
Vogler called Larson “full go” in camp this fall, while sophomore Garrett Olson and freshman Keagan Calchera will compete for the backup spot. Ideally, the Bulldogs want to get them in some early-season games to gain experience.
The Bulldogs open the season at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, against Minot State at Malosky Stadium. Larson, as you can imagine, can’t wait, and there will be no taking it easy until then.
“Never,” he said. “Time’s precious, time’s money.”