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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton There's reason to believe the Warriors will have a hard defense to score on with second-year standouts like defensive backs Brandon Krona (22) and Daryl Thomas (9) and linebackers Rodney Lamar (13) and Jon Cross (11), the 2010 Southern Division tackle leader.

With numbers, size, speed outlook looks bright for 2011 Warriors

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With numbers, size, speed outlook looks bright for 2011 Warriors
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- After a 2-7 campaign in 2010, the Ridgewater College football program has rebounded with what looks like one of its finest teams in a decade.

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The roster is nearly 70 strong; there's size, speed, experience, and best of all, the coaches will tell you, "a great attitude and willingness to work to be better football players."

So far, it's just a promising reality show in the making. Today the Warriors go live for the first time against someone other than teammates.

Kickoff is at 11 a.m. today at St. Cloud State against the Itasca Vikings, part of the two-day MCAC Kickoff Classic.

"This is a committed, mature and coachable bunch," said head coach Rob Baumgarn, a former Warrior from Montevideo beginning his sixth season at the helm. "These guys have checked their ego at the door and are working to be better football players. It's so refreshing for us coaches."

Baumgarn admits he's optimistic. Nineteen sophomores are the anchor.

The offensive line is huge but the quarterbacking is all first year.

"We'll rely on the defense to keep us in games (early in the season)," said Baumgarn. "The big thing is to just cut down on turnovers. That killed us last season."

Offense

Line: Cody Collins and Chad Anderson, out of Yellow Medicine East, are each 6-foot 4 and scale 300 pounds. The same is said for backup Alex Butler. Bryant Helgeson (Dawson), also competing for time, is also 6-4, but a slim 235 pounds by comparison.

The guards are Steven Galloway (5-10, 270) and David Marvel (6-0, 255), both out of Plant High School in Tampa, Fla. Michael Schultz (6-2, 275) comes out of Chatfield High School. Hank Roth out of New London-Spicer can spell at both center and guard. Tabor Elliot can also go at both spots. Dylan Salisbury (6-3, 275) also is available.

Starting tight end Anton Bedeaux out of Robbinsdale Cooper is back. At 6-4, 250 pounds he's an inviting target over the middle and a powerful blocker. D.J. Schrupp (6-4, 270) backs up and will come in for the double tight set on short yardage.

Running backs: Davontay Stevens (169 carries, 656 yards, 3.88 yards-per-carry) returns after an All-MCAC freshman season. He's slimmed down providing the Jacksonville, Fla., product a "burst of speed" he didn't show last year. "And he's also a great blocker," adds Baumgarn.

There's a wealth of talent looking for snaps behind Stevens: Fabian Forest, Earl Youman, Batemly Exil, Tremaine Scott and Gabe Kromah. Exil was at Ellsworth, Iowa, CC.

Fullbacks: Nathanial Swoyer will be starting on the same field where he was a starting linebacker for the Cardinals the past three falls. He also ran short-yardage fullback which prepared him for his role as a Warrior. Baumgarn describes him as a smart, physical player who adapts easily to any offensive set. Tyrell Martin can play tailback or fullback; Jon Solum, from Paynesville, is also a prospect here.

Quarterback: A luxury for the Willmar-based team -- four deep, all freshmen. Trevor Nystrom "throws a great ball" and has been pegged as starting QB from the start. Multi-faceted Cody Jaeger, who will do the punting, is pushing Nystrom. He throws well on the run, but the former Benson Brave needs time to adjust to speed of the college game. Sam Graham, 6-4, 200 pounds, has good size but needs time to "polish his skills." Andrew Geiger has a future, but he's limited by coming out of a running offense at Sleepy Eye Public.

Wide receiver: This is a blitz-happy league so the QB must be able to take advantage of gaps in the defense left by a charging safety or linebacker. The receiving corps is deep, tall and can run after the catch. Using his speed and cuts, Keante Johnson (44 catches, 522 yards, 3 touchdowns) posted the best stats in the state last year. Elijah Lee, the tall Iowan is back. He can use his height (6-4) and reach to bring in looping passes to the end zone. Jake Bothun (28-367-2) is a tough sure-handed slot back from Dawson-Boyd.

The list of prospects here is long: Treyvon Smith, Adam Eyton, Barrett Blake, Austin Ashburn and Ty Flizen, plus Booker Thurmond, who is coming back from a lacerated hand sustained in the preseason.

With so much depth at both running back and wide receiver it seems likely someone will emerge over a nine-game schedule as a prime backup with star potential.

Defense

Tackles: Henry Hankerson is a 6-2, 290-pound freshman out of Palm Beach, Fla. And Dominic Williams weighs in at 275 pounds on a 6-1 frame. "Tough and big yet they can move," says Baumgarn. There's depth and ability here that Ridgewater hasn't had in many seasons, if ever. Competition for playing time has been intense. Looking to rotate in is Tyler Tabatt out of Sartell, Connor Doyle from Hopkins, Estimhile Wadensky, also out of Plant HS in Tampa, and Taurean Mulkey from Jacksonville.

Defensive ends: Rob Diane (DEE-ahn-ee) is back and prime all-state material. Baumgarn calls him the most dynamic defensive end he's had. He compares his rush to that of Craig Gardner, the sack master out of BOLD two years ago, but Diane is stronger against the rush. Tyler Minkel is slated for the other end. He's out of BOLD and spent 2010 at NDSU where he redshirted. He's had some knee problems early but is expected to be ready. Back-ups are 6-8 Johnnie Miller, 6-7 Dominic Williams and 6-5 Brandon Doering.

Linebackers: Ridgewater deploys three linebackers. Rodney Lamar gets to the ball quickly and wraps up. He switched schools after the head coaching change at Rochester and had a friend up here. Jon Cross led the division with 91 tackles last fall. Harry Cardor, from New Roads, La., returns. Opponents may find it very hard to squeeze out yards against Ridgewater's front seven. There's good depth, too, with Josh Boyda, Brad Portner and Rob Revermann, out of NLS. Melvin Kromah is a sophomore that will help here and elsewhere.

Secondary: The defensive backfield also overflows with savvy players, many worthy of a starting role. Brandon Krona, 5-8, 170 out of Washburn, is the leader in the secondary. He's physical and fast. He's also the team leader, without question, said Baumgarn. Jamie Fields, also out of Washburn, is in his second year. Elijah Swen could start here, too, or at safety. He's a returnee and the also the returning place-kicker. There are 14 prospects for four spots in the secondary. Time will sort out the backups and part-time players. All will likely see action on special teams. Daryl Thomas is a top returning talent at both linebacker and safety. Andrico Rolle will also see time at safety. Baumgarn, the offensive coordinator, credits defensive coordinator Jim Mitteness and assistants Ken Heitzman and Luke Haugen with an outstanding job in shaping the 2011 defense.

Special teams: Jaeger will punt with Thomas the backup, Swen kicks extra points, field goals and kickoffs. Keante Johnson returns kickoffs and punts with Cory Smith, Treyvon Smith and Swen also returning punts and kickoffs. Look for Johnson to break a kickoff or punt early in the season.

Itasca outlook

The Vikings won last year, but finished no better than Ridgewater -- each 1-3 in their division and 2-7 overall.

Coach Dan Mell lists two returning starters on each side of the ball. This is the first of four inter-divisional games to start the season. Each win is worth a point while Southern Division wins count as two points. Ridgewater's home opener is next Saturday, hosting Mesabi Range at 2 p.m.

The game will be played on the turf at Huskies Stadium overlooking the Mississippi River on the St. Cloud State University campus.

Two MCAC games were played Friday and four today. The Warriors-Vikings tilt will be followed by Mesabi Range-Fergus Falls, Vermilion-Minnesota West and Fond du Lac-Central Lakes.

Rochester defeated Central Lakes in the state championship game last November. The top two teams in each division advance to the MCAC semifinal-round.

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Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
(320) 214-4334
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