The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 21, 2014

Courrier: Mavericks stay in line with recruiting plan


The Mankato Free Press

---- — It’s already been two weeks since Minnesota State announced its latest football recruiting class, 23 players whom we won’t hear about for a couple more years but who MSU will depend on to continue a solid foundation of success.

Wisely, coach Aaron Keen and his staff decided to focus this new group of recruits on the offensive and defensive lines, continuing a proven plan for long-term success.

Minnesota State has lost only two games in the last two seasons, both coming in the national tournament. The athleticism of quarterback Jon Wolf, the power running of Connor Thomas and Andy Pfeiffer and the pass-catching prowess of receivers Adam Thielen and Dennis Carter have been big reasons for the success, as has been the ball-hawking skills of the defense.

But where the Mavericks have been the most dominant is in the offensive and defensive lines. And that shouldn’t change next season.

Four of the five starters, plus the top reserve, are back in the offensive line, surely maintaining the Mavericks’ ability to run the ball. The Mavericks lose defensive end Chris Schaudt, but the rest of the defensive line rotation returns.

However, these groups will eventually leave the program, and it should be reassuring to the fans that the staff has decided to put ample resources into the trenches. The most recent recruiting class has six defensive linemen and two offensive linemen.

The 2013 class, some of which we might see next season, had four offensive linemen and four defensive linemen.

The essence of Midwest football is blocking and tackling. Many Northern Sun teams have shifted to wide-open, pass-first offenses, which are fun to watch, but there is no chance of prolonged success when you chuck the ball too often in questionable weather.

In nearly every game this season, the Mavericks had the advantage in the lines, which led to a dominating regular season. The reason St. Cloud State won the playoff game at Blakeslee Stadium is because the offensive line opened holes and protected quarterback Philip Klaphake, and the defensive line limited most of the Mavericks’ offensive weapons, save for a spectacular performance by Wolf.

If more NFL teams spent the high draft picks on offensive and defensive linemen, there would be fewer busts. Teams like the fan appeal of the flashy picks, taking quarterbacks or running backs or receivers. But though some take longer to develop, linemen are much safer and better for the long-term.

The Mavericks will continue to have successful football teams because of recruiting decisions made four years ago and the smarts to continue stockpiling the big guys.

If the Mavericks continue to run the ball so effectively and stop the run with even more proficiency, there will continue to be playoff games at Blakeslee in December.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.