College football: UMD seniors looking forward to one last year as Bulldogs open season at Upper Iowa
Bulldogs say this season could be extra-special after having last season wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the comedy classic “Animal House,” John Belushi’s character “Bluto” Blutarsky, mulling his future after getting expelled from school, basically says, “Great. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the Peace Corps.”
While it might be a bit of an exaggeration to compare that to the 2021 Minnesota Duluth football team, the fact is, some of these guys have been here a long time.
UMD, which opens the season at 6 p.m. Thursday at Upper Iowa, returns nine of 15 seniors from last fall who are taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA after last fall was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That group includes four of their five captains in quarterback John Larson, wide receiver Johnny McCormick, linebacker Nate Pearson of Lake Nebagamon and defensive lineman Dan Monson.
What are these guys now, 25?
Larson got a laugh out of that.
“No, 23,” he said. “Nate and I are actually the younger ones, but I know Dan Monson and Johnny McCormick are turning 24 here pretty soon.
“It’s been almost two years since we’ve played a game. It’s kind of a weird feeling, honestly. It’s been so long that it feels like I should be done playing football. I’ve got a sixth year, so it’s just a blessing to be able to do it one more season.”
“I’m excited, especially seeing how far all these guys have come from two years ago,” he said. “We’re all just itching to get out there and see what we can do.”
And for a couple of those seniors, this year could be a springboard to bigger things to come.
Last year a Minnesota Vikings representative came out to campus to take measurements and work out several UMD players, including Larson and Pearson, and that scout apparently shared the information with the Chicago Bears.
“It was a thrilling experience,” Pearson admitted. “Just being able to go through something like that, an experience like that, it was amazing.”
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs never got a chance to show what they could do on the field in an actual game.
This year, they get their chance.
“I can’t wait,” Pearson.
Playing in the NFL is a dream for anyone who has ever strapped on the chin strap, and Pearson is no exception. He would love to get a tryout with a pro team after the season.
“That’d be a hard thing to turn down,” Pearson said, laughing, “but I’m not too sure about any of that right now.”
That’s because Pearson’s focus is entirely on this fall. If he does that, Pearson said, everything will take care of itself.
“If I have a really standout season, potentially, there might be some opportunities out there, but I’m more worried about my time at UMD,” he said.
NO. 23 MINNESOTA DULUTH AT UPPER IOWA
What: College football season opener
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Harms-Eischeid Stadium, Fayette, Iowa
2019 records: UMD 8-3; Upper Iowa 2-9
Forecast: mostly cloudy with a high of 72 and 9 mph wind
Radio: KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM
MINNESOTA DULUTH AT UPPER IOWA
National rankings: UMD is ranked No. 23 in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II preseason poll; Upper Iowa isn’t ranked.
Series: UMD holds a 7-1 advantage in a series that dates to 2006 when the Peacocks moved up to NCAA Division II. Upper Iowa turned in a shocker in their last meeting, upsetting UMD 23-13 Oct. 26, 2019, at Malosky Stadium, snapping the Bulldogs’ 12-game home winning streak and eliminating any chance of them making the NCAA postseason.
Coaches: Curt Wiese is 71-15 going into his eighth season at UMD, including seven NSIC North Division titles, two 11-0 regular seasons and four NCAA Division II playoff appearances.
Jason Hoskins was named the new head football coach at Upper Iowa following the 2019 season. Hoskins becomes the 16th head football coach in the football program's history after returning to the Peacock coaching staff prior to the 2019 season. Jason Hoskins, a former Upper Iowa assistant coach, was named the Peacocks’ head coach following the 2019 season but has yet to coach them in an actual game. The native of Dubuque, Iowa, had a stint with the Bulldogs as a running backs coach and worked with Wiese for a few weeks of the offseason after Wiese’s arrival at UMD in February 2008.
Outlook: UMD quarterback John Larson remembers the Bulldogs’ last meeting with Upper Iowa all too well and what made it even more frustrating for the signal caller was that Larson had to watch the game from the sideline as he was recovering from a dislocated shoulder and was going through concussion protocol. “That one hurt, to say the least,” Larson said. “From what it sounds, if we would have won that game, we would have had a shot at the playoffs as well. We just didn’t play how we expected to play, and I’m not going to lie, they played amazing and deserved to win that game. It just kind of hurt how it went down; we never expect to lose here at UMD, and especially not at Malosky, which made it even more painful.”
The first game of the season is always more difficult to game plan for, and this year, it’s almost impossible as none of these teams played last fall. Upper Iowa has freshman T.J. Smith (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) listed as the starter at quarterback and freshman Willy Camacho (5-9, 180) and sophomore Keontae Luckett (5-10, 200) at running back. “You kind of have to go in with a real basic game plan and adjust on the fly,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “I think it’s going to be like that for everybody for a few weeks, because nobody really knows what everybody has coming back personnel-wise. There’s been a lot of development that has taken place with some guys over the last couple years, and a lot of new guys on rosters, so it’s really hard to gauge talent-wise with a lot of teams.”
While Upper Iowa might be an unknown, Larson certainly isn’t. The two-time NSIC North Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year has all the tools; the 6-foot-1, 237-pounder just needs to stay healthy. Having played his high school ball for Braham (Minn.), he occasionally played against Northland teams and it’s as if he has been around forever. No, it only felt like it. “You lift weights in two years of preparation and it gets kind of old without playing one football game,” Larson said. “A lot of practices went on without any football game in sight. It was hard but now it looks like it was finally worth it. Hopefully, this season goes smoothly and we get through a whole season,hopefully with no hiccups when it comes to the COVID side of things, and just back to normal.”
— Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune