College football: UMD QB Larson on the mend

A mound of snow was piled up on the far end at Malosky Stadium, and a snowbank-encircled Griggs Field, but the opening of Minnesota Duluth spring football practice on Friday looked like business as usual on a sunny 40-degree afternoon.

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A mound of snow was piled up on the far end at Malosky Stadium, and a snowbank-encircled Griggs Field, but the opening of Minnesota Duluth spring football practice on Friday looked like business as usual on a sunny 40-degree afternoon.

"It feels great to be back out here, for sure, and it's a beautiful day, too. Can't ask for much better," UMD quarterback John Larson said. "Just two weeks ago there was about three feet of snow out here, but it looks good now. Pretty awesome."

Just the fact that Larson was even out there, running around in football gear, is a great sign for the Bulldogs.

Larson is coming off a major leg injury, and last year's backups, Mike Rybarczyk and Ben Everhart, are no longer on the team, despite having athletic eligibility remaining. Rybarczyk didn't want to return in a backup role, and Everhart is a double engineering major who will graduate this summer.

That puts even more emphasis on Larson's recovery. Larson said he "heard something snap" in Week 7 against Southwest Minnesota State last fall. Turns out, he had broken his left leg and had torn three ligaments off the bone in his left ankle. Screws were inserted to repair it.


"A double injury," Larson said, before laughing. "I'm in a lot better shape than last time you talked to me."

Larson wears tape and a brace over his left ankle, something he said he will probably wear for the rest of his career to keep it stable. Larson hopes to be fully cleared by May. In the meantime, UMD will be extra careful with him.

"It's getting there," said Larson, who will be a junior this fall. "Today, I probably did about 80 percent of the stuff. I did a lot of individual work and stayed away from the team stuff just so I don't get rolled up on. Pretty much anything that doesn't involve D-linemen coming at me."

Larson is a dual-threat quarterback who plays the game hard, but which can also invite punishment. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, he's rugged. The Braham, Minn., product threw for 1,343 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games last year before getting hurt while scrambling around, trying to extend a play. He also ran for 435 yards and five more scores.

Both Rybarczyk and Everhart proved themselves capable of winning games, combining for more than 1,300 passing yards and 10 TDs last season as UMD went 11-1 while advancing to the NCAA Division II playoffs for the ninth time since 2008, but now the backup role falls to freshman Keagan Calchera and sophomore Garrett Olson.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Calchera redshirted for the Bulldogs last fall after succeeding Everhart at Eau Claire (Wis.) Memorial, while the 6-foot, 195-pound Olson, from Minnetonka (Minn.) High School, appeared in four games last year, completing 11 of 16 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown.

"John's pretty good right now, but we'll keep him out of live work in the spring," UMD coach Curt Wiese said. "Both backups have had good offseasons. Ideally, we'd want a fourth guy, but now our focus is on getting these three ready to go. We've been in a worse position at quarterback than this before. I think for these two guys behind John, this spring practice is going to work out great because they're going to get a ton of reps."

Getting their shot


Former UMD football players Tareq Abulebbeh (cornerback), Dre Greer (defensive line), Alex Helmer (linebacker), Matt Juneau (offensive line), Trapper Ward (offensive line) and Zach Bassuener (linebacker) are expected to work out for scouts at the NSIC Pro Day on Wednesday at Concordia-St. Paul. Basseuner, who last played at UMD in 2017, was in camp with the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills last year.

"I've been working hard, so hopefully everything goes well," Abulebbeh said. "I give Coach Wiese the credit for bringing me here and giving me this opportunity. I've been working hard. This place is in my heart forever."

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 or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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