UMD's recent success helps with recruiting

Minnesota Duluth football coach Bob Nielson wouldn't go so far as to say that recruits are knocking at his door, but the Bulldogs' success in recent years certainly has allowed his staff to be more selective when it comes to doling out scholarshi...

Minnesota Duluth football coach Bob Nielson wouldn't go so far as to say that recruits are knocking at his door, but the Bulldogs' success in recent years certainly has allowed his staff to be more selective when it comes to doling out scholarship dollars.

UMD will unveil its 2012 recruiting class today as part of national signing day, with about 20 high school seniors expected to be on that list. The Bulldogs have won at least a share of four straight Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference titles, as well as NCAA Division II national championships in 2008 and 2010, and that kind of success undoubtedly helps breed more success.

Nielson and Co., however, don't plan on resting on their laurels.

"People have asked me before if our success has made recruiting easier," Nielson said. "What success does is that it gets you on more peoples' lists, but you still have to do a good job in the recruiting process. You have to make sure they see how our school is going to fit them, and how our program is going to fit them, and how they're going to fit in. So in some ways, our success has helped recruiting, but in other ways it's still the same process. You've still got to work hard at it."

Nielson isn't allowed to comment on individual recruits until they sign, but this year's class may have less area products. The Bulldogs have been blessed in recent years with homegrown talent, with standouts including offensive lineman Garth Heikkinen (Duluth Central), receiver D.J. Winfield (Mountain Iron-Buhl) and nose guard Buma Foncham (Duluth East).


Bulldog fans will get a glimpse of the future today.

"We've had a lot of interest in our program, and any time you spend a lot of time in recruiting, you're excited for this day," Nielson said. "You like the fact that you can start to move forward now in other areas."

A look at where some Northland players are going:

  • Proctor middle linebacker Derek Schofield, a Cotton transfer and the younger brother of Minnesota track athlete Kenny Schofield, is headed to Bemidji State.
  • Esko standout quarterback/defensive back Max Reinertsen has yet to decide on a school while teammate Zach Crow, a receiver, will attend Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall, Minn.
  • Deer River all-purpose player Damon Benham is headed to Bemidji State.
  • Grand Rapids quarterback Austin Pohlen received interest from North Dakota, North Dakota State and UMD, among others, but is undecided.
  • Baruch Fischer of Silver Bay and Jordan Villebrun of Elijahjuan Dotts of North Woods are undecided but may play small-college football. Silver Bay halfback Holden Panetti is looking at a junior college.
  • Virginia offensive lineman Joe Geiselman has committed to St. Scholastica and linebacker Austin Strukel is headed to Minnesota-Crookston.
  • Moose Lake-Willow River running back/linebacker Chris Gassert has committed to St. Scholastica while running back/cornerback Josh Cisar is considering walking on at UMD but first wants to try out with the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League next month.
  • Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College has four players who have committed to four-year schools: defensive tackle Ronald Johnson (Savannah State), linebacker/safety Jameel Franklin (Southern Miss), quarterback Michael Davis (St. Scholastica) and wide receiver Adrian Thompkins (St. Scholastica).
  • Hermantown football coach Daryl Illikainen said several colleges have shown interest in Hawks' fullback/defensive tackle Jeremy Peterson and center/defensive tackle Frank Lesar, the younger brother of North Dakota State offensive guard Jake Lesar. Neither player has yet to commit. Illikainen said with Fond du Lac and St. Scholastica adding programs in the last five years there are more options for local players to stay home.

    "When Wisconsin-Superior dropped its program, there wasn't a whole lot, and now you've got two smaller-college options right here in addition to UMD," Illikainen said. "It takes quite a player to play at UMD; it reminds me of when I was at North Dakota State. You've got to be quite the athlete to compete at that level, so to have other options right here is good for area kids and good for area football."

  • Related Topics: 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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