MANKATO — Minnesota State is only eight months removed from the end of the football season, when the Mavericks advanced to the national semifinals, yet the record is back to 0-0 and nothing has been accomplished.
"Last year is last year," senior linebacker Isaac Kolstad said. "Whatever happened last year doesn't carry over to this year.
"The 2013 team hasn't proved anything. We just have to do what we need to do to get ready for that first game."
The Minnesota State football team is coming off its best season, going 13-1 and reaching the national semifinals. But with nearly everyone returning, those achievements have created expectations that are also at an all-time level.
"Preseason rankings are based on what you've done," interim coach Aaron Keen said. "But you just can't roll the football out there and expect to win. We have to make sure our players understand and remember the work they did to be successful."
Minnesota State held its first practice Thursday, and there are slightly more than three weeks until the first game at Mary. Until then, the Mavericks' coaching staff and team leaders will be working to get their players to focus on the one-game approach that was so successful last season.
"We've been letting everyone know that it wasn't easy," senior quarterback Jon Wolf said. "We had a lot of close games, and some games that came down to the wire. We have to make sure we use that same approach of going 1-0 every week."
Wolf returns at quarterback, as does his backup, sophomore Mitch Brozovich. Wolf rushed for 695 yards and 10 touchdowns and passed for 1,755 yards and 13 scores.
"In the playoffs, (Wolf) was dominant, a difference-maker," Keen said. "I'm looking forward to another year with him."
Running backs Andy Pfeiffer and Connor Thomas combined for 1,728 yards and 19 touchdowns, and they figure to share the carries again. Top receiver Adam Thielen just left town with the Minnesota Vikings, but Keen said that with the number of guys returning who made clutch catches last season, he expects the sum will make up for a lost part.
"We were pretty solid, all-around, but we need to continue to improve the passing," Wolf said. "We have a great line, and a lot of good athletes that can run the ball, but we have to be more consistent passing."
Minnesota State's strength will again be in the offensive and defensive lines. Four offensive line starters and the top backup return, and the top six defensive linemen, led by Chris Schaudt, are back.
"We'll always try to be known for our strength up front," Keen said. "We have a lot of guys with experience coming back."
Play-making linebacker Marcus Hall-Oliver is gone, but converted defensive back Tyler Henderson stepped into that role in the spring. There are three cornerbacks and three safeties returning that started games last season, though cornerback Robert Gunderson and safety Earl Brooks will be tough to replace.
"The coaches told us that we're ranked 71st on defense on third down," Kolstad said. "We were top-20 in everything else so that's an area we can improve."
Kicker Sam Brockshus, the all-time leading scorer in program history, has been receiving preseason All-America notice. He made 21 of 27 field goals and 59 of 61 PATs.
The shortest offseason in program history, plus the season getting moved one week back, has gotten the players and staff excited to get going. After a few more days of non-contact practices, the pads start popping and the season-opener will come up quickly.
"Everyone has been chomping at the bit to get started," Keen said. "Everyone's on board and really prepared to start the season."