By Chad Courrier firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — It’s been the shortest offseasons in Minnesota State football history.
It was just Dec. 8 when the Mavericks were still on the field in the national semifinals, losing to Valdosta State.
That loss has also made for a long offseason.
“Everybody is really excited to get started,” Wolf said. “It’s been a long time since Valdosta. I think we’re ready.”
Minnesota State opens the season at 2:30 p.m. with a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference game against the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. Last season’s 13-1 record, conference championship and final-four berth has elevated preseason optimism to unprecedented levels.
“I really love this team,” coach Aaron Keen said. “I love the work ethic and attitude. The kids attack practice every day. I love the competitive nature of the athletes. I like seeing them in big games and watching them compete.”
So let the most anticipated season in a long time begin.
“I think we’re excited to play someone else,” Keen said. “There’s always a good focus on the first game, and I think it’s good for us to get away as a team, stay in a hotel and ride the bus and be around each other.”
The Mavericks have been getting a lot of attention, showing up at No. 2 on some national polls and being tabbed the favorite to win another Northern Sun and South Division championship.The team has been practicing for almost a month, showing Wolf that the same intensity exists that fueled the historic run of 2012.
“I hate long bus rides, but it shouldn’t affect us,” Wolf said. “We’re all pumped up for the first game. It doesn’t matter where we play.”
Wolf leads a prolific offense, which averaged 35 points per game. The Mavericks averaged more than 400 yards of offense, with 235.7 yards per game rushing. The defense was nationally-ranked last season, allowing only 287 yards and 17.9 points per game.
“Our offense should be able to put up more points and gain more yards,” Wolf said. “We should have a much better offense.”
Defensively, the team made 22 interceptions and 14 fumbles recoveries, making twice as many takeaways as the offense committed turnovers.
“The biggest thing for this team will be consistency in execution,” Keen said. “We want to be a great fundamental team, and it takes a great deal of focus to be fundamentally sound for 75 to 80 plays.”
Keen said that Mary features some top skill players. Quarterback Craig Bagnell passed for 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns in only eight games. Receiver Elby Pope had 977 yards receiving yards and seven touchdowns, and Dariouse Gravely was the top rusher with 536 yards and four touchdowns.
On defense, Mary returns its three top tacklers with Grant Singer, Scott Maldonado and John Oyloe. Singer led his squad with 91 tackles, including six sacks. Maldonado tallied 87 tackles, while Oyloe posted a team-high 10 sacks.
Notes: Defensive tackle Bryan Keys will miss today’s game with a knee injury. Keen said he doesn’t expect Keys to miss many games. ... This is the third time these programs have met, with the Mavericks winning the first two. The last time that Minnesota State played Mary was in 2009.