Dan Runkle had six winning seasons as the Minnesota State football coach, each of which provided some special memories, but the seasons and teams he remembers most came in 1987 and 1993, when the program won conference titles.
“I would trade 7-3 every year for one conference championship because they don’t happen very often,” said Runkle, now the athletic director at Dubuque University. “To win it all is something you always remember. They don’t give away trophies for 8-3 or 7-4.”
The 1987 Mavericks will be inducted into the Minnesota State Athletics Hall of Fame tonight and honored at halftime of Saturday’s homecoming game. Runkle and several players are expected to attend a reception tonight and the game on Saturday.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the players,” Runkle said. “I don’t look any older, but I’m sure they do.”
Runkle, who will be at tonight’s activities but will return to Dubuque for a football game Saturday, took over the program before the 1981 season, after the team had left the Northern Intercollegiate Conference. The Mavericks played two seasons as an independent and joined the powerful North Central Conference in 1983.
In anticipation of the tougher competition, Runkle said that several young players were redshirted, and the program made steady progress as those players matured. Finally, the Mavericks won an NCC title in 1987, as those players became seniors, going 9-3 before losing at Portland State in the first round of the playoffs.
During that season, fullback Dave Scofield rumbled for an 82-yard touchdown run, and quarterback Mike McDevitt threw the team’s first touchdown pass in the final regular-season game. The Mavericks got a rare victory at North Dakota State.
“The games fade, but the memories of the guys and the hard work, that’s what lasts,” McDevitt said. “This was a talented class of guys who were winners than and continue to be winners.”
Quarterback Greg von der Lippe suffered a head injury in the win at Northern Colorado and couldn’t fly home with the team, though McDevitt gives him a lot of credit for keeping the team together and focused for the final seven games.
“A lot of those guys took a chance to come to Mankato,” Runkle said. “People didn’t know what kind of football team we would have so the first challenge was to build the program.”
That 1987 team helped Minnesota State to re-establish its football program, and although the Mavericks only won one more conference championship in the next 20 years, that squad showed that the program could compete in one of the top leagues in Division II.
That team is taking a rightful place in the Hall of Fame because very few other teams in Minnesota State history have had the same impact.
“It’s nice to be honored by the school, but it’s all about the guys,” McDevitt said. “It was a group that came together in the right place at the right time. It was a special group that took an opportunity and cashed it in.”
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his local sports blog or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.