By Chad Courrier
The Free Press
Last season was the most successful in the history of the Minnesota State football program.
Thirteen straight victories, another Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and South Division championship, home playoff victories, team records, individual awards.
But that memorable season ended with a loss to Valdosta State in the national semifinals, meaning that all goals werenÕt accomplished.
"My ultimate goal is to win a national championship so 13 wins isn't a big deal," junior quarterback Jon Wolf said. "We lost the most important game."
The Mavericks opened spring practice Monday afternoon with 82 players, hoping to squeeze 15 practice in before April 27.
Minnesota State has lost only 11 seniors from last season's team, though there are a couple of big holes to fill. Adam Thielen was one of the most prolific receivers in program history, and linebacker Marcus Hall-Oliver ranked second n the team in tackles. Safety Earl Brooks was fourth on the team in tackles, and his three interceptions ranked second only to senior Robert Gunderson.
But with so many returning starters returning, interim head coach Aaron Keen can concentrate on improving techniques and schemes while developing competition and depth at each position.
"Every year is a a new year, and it doesn't matter how many kids you have coming back or you're losing," Keen said. "You still have to teach the players to have good habits. There are a lot of positive memories that still linger, but you have to be careful that you still put in the work and correct the mistakes."
Keen said he hasn't watched the tape of the Valdosta State loss for quite a while, hoping to move on and focus on next season. The Mavericks will likely be the favorites to win the Northern Sun again, with a big bull's-eye on their backs.
"A couple years ago, we played a game at Duluth to get into the playoffs, and that was the biggest game I'd ever played in," junior defensive end Chris Schaudt said. "Now we've had exposure to big games. It's easy to say you want to win a national championship, but then you realize how hard it is to do it and how much more you have to give.
"What we did last year means nothing, and we're more hungry than we've been. You can't get cocky or complacent and accept the same results as last year. We don't want the same result, we want to make that next step."
That process begins with spring practice. Wolf said that the players are excited about taking the field again, building some momentum through spring practices to summer workouts to fall camp. He said that the defense has been doing its share of trash-talking leading up to the practices, while the offense has been giving it right back.
"Practices can get a little monotonous so you have to treat it like games," Schaudt said. "(The offense) has been doing some whoopin' and hollerin', which is good to see. That's a lot better than just having a bunch of deadbeats out there."