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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Ridgewater College head coach Rob Baumgarn, a native of Montevideo, is more optimistic than ever with a talented and harmonious 69-man roster and a 2011 playoff appearance. This season, four teams per division advance this year to the postseason, instead of just two.

College football: Warriors look to reboot passing game

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sports Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The Ridgewater Warriors dipped to 2-7 in 2010, caught a wave and made a playoff appearance last year and this autumn will be looking to sail all the way to the state championship game.

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"I'm very pleased with the pre-season," said Rob Baumgarn, a former college linebacker starting his seventh season on the football rudder at the campus overlooking Foot Lake and the city beyond. "We've had no issues on or off the field. The players are willing to work and get coached up. It's been a breath of fresh air."

Just like last year the roster is big in numbers (69 this year with one drop in the past week). While the defense might not be as flashy as a year ago, the offense should be more consistent.

"We're deep at quarterback and, since I've been here, we've never been so deep at wide receiver," said the Montevideo native, who is also a Willmar Rec and Education supervisor. "We were too one-dimensional with the run the last two years. We should be good both running and passing this year."

Last season, Ridge averaged 165 yards per game on the ground but just 110 in the air with 10 TDs against 13 INTs.

The team has been in practice mode since August 5 and ready to hit someone other than a teammate. That chance comes up on Saturday after a long bus trip to Virginia to play the Mesabi College Norsemen.

The Minnesota College Athletic Conference has opened previously with a two-day, five-game football weekend at St. Cloud but that has been dropped to add a third-round of playoffs while not changing the length of the season.

Here's a breakdown of how Baumgarn, also the offensive coordinator, views the line-up for the opener:

Offense

Line: Depth and size here, plus a willingness to work hard. Michael Schultz (Chatfield) returns at center after starting all 10 games in 2011. Marvel Davis (Tampa, Fla), the second-year starting right guard, is a "coach on the field", says Baumgarn. "One of the smartest linemen I've ever had. I've learned things from him." At right tackle is 6-4, 350-pound Jordan Barge (Covington, Georgia). He's physical and mobile. The right side of the line could be the key to unlocking the offense and turning the backs loose. Dan Stuewe (Cologne) gets the nod at left tackle. He played in the Lions All-Star game out of Central High School in Norwood Young America. Left guard Cody Rosenau (Lester Prairie) is being pushed by Michael Morris (Indianapolis) while 6-3, 280-pound Aaron Kerkow (Jordan) is available to help out at either guard or tackle. Tight end Lawrence White (Wake Forest, NC), a 6-7, 250-pound transfer from Iowa Western CC, has DI dimensions and will be a fine target across the middle.

Running backs: Two-time all-MCAC choice Davontay Stevens has matriculated to University of Mary. There are four tailback-types waiting in the wings for their debut. Look for Batelmy Exil (Delrum Beach, Fla), Bryant Amundson (St. Cloud Tech), Martell Baker (Indianapolis) and Deandre Henry (Cary, NC).

Fullbacks: Baumgarn considers rugged Nathanial Swoyer (Willmar) the best fullback in the league. Sabastain Lee (Waterville) backs up and is similar in style and size to Swoyer.

Quarterback: Returnee Cody Jaeger (Benson) gets the start after backing up Trevor Nystrom. He's athletic and a good runner but his success was spotty throwing. Sophomore Wes Oswald (Isle), Dean Caldwell (Wayne, Mich.) and Sam Graham, (St. Paul) are all waiting their chance.

Wide receiver: Exceptional depth and talent, says the head coach. Kyle Mullen has been unstoppable in practice and could be a game-breaker. He's 6-5, 200-pound sophomore with DI potential. He's from Canada but spent last year at the City College of San Francisco where he felt undervalued. His presence here could be a huge break for both the Warriors and himself by setting the stage for transfer to a four-year college. Kevin Parks (Colorado Springs) has great speed. Clint Coffey (Roselle , NJ), Tremaine Scott (St. Paul), and Andrew Walstrom (Watertown-Mayer) each look "tough" occupying the slotback position. Also look for wide outs Greg McPherson (Glencoe) and Justin Frank (Payneville).

Defense

Line: At 6-1, 305 pounds, Dominique Mitchell (Warner Robins, Georgia) is a formidable roadblock to an opponent's inside running game. The sophomore is quicker off the ball this year, also. Glen Ingram (St. Paul) won't be moved easily; he's 5-10, 315 pounds but athletic. It's a fresh start at defensive end. Tyler Tabatt (Sartell) and Chris Hanson (New Prague) will take over at a position where the Warriors lost all-stater Rob Diane, among others.

Linebackers: A Warriors' strength last year will be all new. Getting the early nod are Jordan Meine (Springfield) at middle with Jones Green (St. Paul Hill-Murray) and Darious Campbell (St. Paul Central) on the outside. Casey Style is also available but he's been trouble by a lingering ankle/foot injury.

Secondary: Strong safety Corey Smith (Palm Beach, Fla.) returns after seeing extensive action last fall. Kleme Yarh (New Hope) at free safety also played. Cornerbacks will have to make quick strides if the Warriors are going to cool down foe's aerial attacks, some of them quite potent in the MCAC. Andrico Rolle (Miami, Fla) has a year in as a back-up. Hunter Smith (Sioux Falls, SD) is fast and physical. Emanuell Williams (St. Paul Cental) is back but he too lacks game experience. Mike Wilson (New Roads, Lousiana) could break through in his third year on campus. John Mantel (Mora) also could have an impact.

Special teams: Jaeger is back to punt with Matt Malek-Zadengan (Chanhassen) kicking off and providing a reliable foot on placements inside the 20-yard line. Long-snapper will be either Casey Style (Glencoe) or Bryant Amundson, or perhaps both. Here are the frontrunners to return kicks and punts: Coffey, Scott, Parks, Walstrom and Hunter Smith.

New playoff format

The MCAC dropped one regular-season game from the schedule and added a third-round of playoffs.

The first round will be intra-divisional with the No. 1 seed in the South hosting South No. 4 and 3S at 2S; it would be the same match-ups in the North Division. The leagues would cross-bracket in the second round with the high seed getting home field. The championship game will be played at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud.

The Warriors will play four of the five Northern Division teams and all four of their Southern Division foes for the 8-game schedule. They will not play Itasca College, which has been the opener the past two seasons at the MCAC festival at St. Cloud State University.

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