College football: UMD running back Sikorski expected to carry the load

Then-Minnesota Duluth offensive coordinator Curt Wiese was asked about the Bulldogs' future prospects on the charter flight back home from Florence, Ala., after UMD won its second NCAA Division II national title three years ago.

UMD football Sikorski
Minnesota Duluth running back Austin Sikorski (28) rushes the ball for a touchdown against Emporia State last week at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. Clint Austin /

Then-Minnesota Duluth offensive coordinator Curt Wiese was asked about the Bulldogs' future prospects on the charter flight back home from Florence, Ala., after UMD won its second NCAA Division II national title three years ago.

UMD was graduating all its top running backs, including three who combined for more than 8,000 rushing yards and 100 touchdowns in their careers.

Wiese mentioned the name of redshirt Austin Sikorski and said, "We'll be fine."

Sikorski has emerged as a dependable starting running back for the Bulldogs three years later. With UMD besieged by a slew of injuries to its backfield, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior is expected to get the bulk of the ball-carrying duties when No. 5 UMD (11-1) plays at No. 2 Northwest Missouri State at noon today in an NCAA Division II second-round game game at Maryville, Mo.

Sikorski leads the Bulldogs with 184 carries for 1,239 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, good for fifth on UMD's all-time single-season rushing list.


"Our backfield has a lot of good guys with a lot of talent," Sikorski said. "It's a good thing we had that depth because of all the injuries we've been hit with. We call ourselves the stable because we've got the workhorses, but we're in the doghouse now."

UMD's offensive backfield, which used to be the team's deepest position, is suddenly its thinnest.

"Sometimes it happens that way," said Wiese, who is finishing his first season as head coach. "Injuries seem to happen in runs like that. Our offensive line and running back positions have been a little snake-bit this year."

Sophomore Logan Lauters (knee) and seniors Jeron Johnson (ankle) and Chaz Thomas (ankle) are out with injuries.

UMD had hoped that Lauters, in particular, would be able to go today after missing the past two games. Lauters has rushed for 757 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

"When guys are injured or not making the trip, it's somebody else's responsibility and time to come in and do the job," Wiese said. "Austin is going to need to carry a lot of weight in the backfield."

Caleb Belknap, a redshirt freshman from Menasha, Wis., is expected to back up Sikorski. The 6-foot, 210-pound Belknap has talent but lacks experience, having been stuck at the bottom of what was previously a loaded depth chart.

Freshman Beau Bofferding, who was moved from wide receiver to running back at the end of last week, also could see action.


"At this point in the season we're relatively healthy, but in the same sense, you wish you were 100 percent," Wiese said.

Backup quarterback Eric Kline is out with a knee injury, with senior Brent Jorgensen now the backup and starting quarterback Drew Bauer listed as the Bulldogs' holder.

Nose tackle Buma Foncham, meanwhile, has to sit out the first half for being ejected during last week's 55-13 victory over Emporia State and senior linebacker Colby Ring suffered a four-inch gash on his shin that required 13 stitches.

"It's no big deal," Ring said. "It's definitely not keeping me from playing. Injuries are part of the game. It's nice that Austin is still healthy. He's a good player and running the ball is a big part of what we like to do."

Sikorski expects to get even more carries than normal today, but said he is ready for it. The Bulldogs rank eighth in the nation, averaging 303.1 rushing yards per game.

"Our game plan is to run the football and challenge the other team to try to stop us," Sikorski said. "We've got the mentality that we're going to run football and that we're not going to let you stop us. That's Bulldog football."

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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