Warriors load up for title run

WILLMAR -- The outlook is, well, sunny on College Hill. The Ridgewater College football team has all the tools, it appears, to make a run for the Southern Division title of the newly-renamed Minnesota College Athletic Conference. A roster that is...

WILLMAR -- The outlook is, well, sunny on College Hill.

The Ridgewater College football team has all the tools, it appears, to make a run for the Southern Division title of the newly-renamed Minnesota College Athletic Conference.

A roster that is 64-players deep is stacked with considerable talent, experience and size -- lots of size.

"Now if they can just stay focused and work toward their goals," said third-year head coach Rob Baumgarn.

There's added motivation for returning players. The wish to honor the memory of deceased teammate Adam Milton. The popular starting defensive back from Miami, Fla., died this summer from stab wounds suffered in a scuffle near campus.


"Our starting secondary -- the guys who were closest to him -- are playing the season for Adam," said Baumgarn.

He calls the sophomore contingent of safeties Brandon Torry, Serrano DeCarlo and corners Micah Oates-Jenkins and Justin Melhado "the cream of the team."

Justin Koenen returns for his second year as the starting quarterback while All-MCCC running back Alex McLaughlin has tackle-breaking strength and breakaway speed.

The offensive line is surely the heaviest ever at the college, which fielded its first team in 1967. Center Cody Haas at 230 pounds and Tom Boike, a 245-pound left tackle, both returning starters, are the "lightweights" on a front that is otherwise well over 300 pounds at every spot.

Defense should make the Warriors competitive early. The offense will take time to find its rhythm. The big questions are whether Koenen or his two promising back-ups -- Walter Rochet and Jordan Shoulders -- will have a reasonable time to throw? Also, can the receiving corps achieve separation from the coverage? Those were both sore points last season.

Ridgewater (5-4 in 2007) opens at Huskies Stadium in St. Cloud at 11 a.m. on Saturday against Itasca College of Grand Rapids.

Line: The line will form around Haas and Boike, also a 6-8 post for the basketball team. Freshman Patrico Lopez (6-1, 350) and Antonio Nicholas (6-2, 380) are leading candidates at the guard spots with Zach Braatz (6-2, 320) and John Noethlich (6-6, 270) the leading lights at tackle, along with Boike. Richard Johnson 6-2, 305) and Aaron Betters (6-2, 225) will counted on to fill in.

Tight End: Jordan Hanson (6-3, 250), a tackle in high school, chose Ridgewater because the coaches offered him the chance to play tight end after he displayed "soft hands" playing basketball for Albert Lea. He'll be pushed by L.W. Frost (6-3, 250), who played for Rosemount.


Quarterback: Baumgarn has the rare treat of three qualified quarterbacks on hand. Koenen won "a tough race" for the starting nod. Baumgarn feels Walter Rochet out of Taft High School in Chicago and Jordan Shoulders from Sibley are very capable of running the team, once they gain some experience.

Running back/fullback: Jake Wahl was the anticipated starter at fullback but the 230-pound sophomore separated his shoulder in the Red and White scrimmage. Nik Neubarth will start now; he's 40 pounds lighter than Wahl but he's hard-nosed and probably more of a running threat. Donnie McPherson, Jr., will also see action.

McLaughlin will get the majority of carries. "He's our thoroughbred. He's strong and motivated," said the head coach. Itching for carries will be Eric Orth, Brendan Fort, Brenton Bradford and his brother Brandon Bradford, who is injured.

Wide receiver: Zach Thissen is back and is one of the co-captains. Sophomore Ricky Warren is sidelined for now while an eligibility issue is sorted out. Luke Euerle, Trent Traxler, Jarrett Campbell, Jesse Brewer, A.J. Rasmussen and Tim Newberg are all in the mix for playing time.

Line: Baumgarn glows when talking about the defensive ends Mickell Brown, a 6-4 245-freshman out of St. Paul Central, and 6-2, 225-pound Joe Doubler of Walnut Grove. "They have speed, size and athleticism," he states.

Also vying for playing time here are Jordan Jannie, Cory Johnson and Andrew Miller.

Inside, down lineman Torean Tubman will cause havoc in the middle. Coaches watched the 6-1, 290-pound Georgia native bench press 225-pounds 30 times. Also starting inside is 5-11, 240-pound Justin Kassner, who has impressed coaches with his moves and toughness.

Other prospects are Allan Noyes, Spencer Laleman, both from Minneota; Cody Koster, a 6-foot, 275-pound farm kid from McBain, Mich., and Kyle Syverson out of KMS and the Sunburg area.


Linebackers: This position is very deep but the extras will get a chance to shine on special teams. Starters are captain Jeff Kalow, a second team All-Southern choice; Matt Wold, Tyler Petermeier, Leon Sargent, Phillip Herkenhoff and Trent Molacek, an ex-Willmar Cardinal who has looked good in his second college camp.

The back-ups at linebacker include Tyler Blomme, Casey Riebe, Joel Rollie, Brock Landmark, and Sonny Zahn. Chris Schultz will likely sit out the year after sustaining a neck injury in an automobile accident last winter.

Secondary: As discussed in the introduction, this is Ridgewater's most seasoned position. Melhado especially had a "terrific" preseason, said Baumgarn, also the defensive coordinator and a former linebacker for the Warriors before playing at Minnesota-Crookston.

Depth here is excellent with Brent Dumke and Travis Cosgrove, both fast. Also competing for time in the secondary are Billy Kurtz, Chris Spearman and Walter Dudley.

Special teams: Euerle is the returning place-kicker. Dumke will punt with Doubler also available. Lopez kicks off and can also place-kick, as he did for BOLD High School.

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