WINONA, Minn. – The Winona State football team that takes the field Thursday night against Bemidji State will be an experienced one, and one that is hungry to take the next step in the postseason.
The Warriors won ten games in 2012, capping their season with a commanding victory over Lindenwood in the Mineral Water Bowl. The 2013 squad – which returns 11 starters from last year's team – wants a little more. The Warriors haven't been to the NCAA Division II Playoffs since 2007 and have their eyes set firmly on that prize.
Thursday night's season opener against Bemidji State will kickoff at 6 pm in Verizon Wireless Stadium in Winona. Below is a position-by-position look at the 2013 Winona State football team.
The Warriors enter training camp with a starter set at quarterback, with senior John Teigland returning for his second year under center. Teigland had an outstanding junior campaign in 2012, throwing for 2,942 yards and 24 touchdowns. His yardage total was the third-most in a single campaign in WSU history while the touchdown total is fourth. Teigland also finished his first full season as a starter with the second-most completions (208) and second-best completion percentage (61.0) in program history. Another full offseason in the Warrior system should help the senior improve his already outstanding numbers. Talented youngsters RJ Gordon and Michael Powell both redshirted last season and will have another year to learn from the sideline. Sophomore Spencer O'Reilly returns after seeing action in one game in 2012 as well. True freshmen Darren Beenken and Jack Nelson will have an opportunity to spend the season learning from Teigland as they pick up on the Warrior offense.
Despite losing the most productive rusher in Winona State history, the Warrior run game is still loaded with talented ball-carriers. Rayon Simmons set both the Winona State and NSIC single-season and career rushing records as a senior in 2012, gaining 1,774 yards on the year while leading an attack that averaged 200.1 yards per game on the ground. Experience still abounds, led by senior Theo Burkett, who enters the year needing just 43 yards to become the 21st player in school history to reach 1,000 yards rushing. Burkett sat out the 2012 season while recovering from an injury, but has averaged 5.9 yards per carry during 24 career contests. Senior Chichi Ojika rushed for 386 yards and 6.5 yards per carry last season and will see plenty of time in the backfield. Junior Anthony Resnick will also have a chance to make an impact after gaining 120 yards a year ago. Redshirt freshmen Will Griffin, Jordan Kos and Paul Preston will all enter camp looking to make their mark while fullback Zach Olstad will also be in the mix. True freshmen Direll Clark and Tyler Sims carry impressive prep resumes into camp as well.
Overall, the Winona State receiving corps is young, but could prove to be one of the most talented group of pass-catchers in recent memory. A pair of sophomores lead the way, with Alan May and Josh Mikes looking to build on productive freshman campaigns. Mikes caught 19 passes for 451 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, leading all NSIC receivers by averaging 23.7 yards per catch. The big speedster got better as the season went along, catching a touchdown pass in each of the final four games of the year. May - who also saw extensive special teams duties - caught eight balls for 158 yards and a score and should see his role in the offense increase. Tamrick Atwood and Harrison Barton will also have chances to increase their playing time with a strong showing in camp. Redshirt freshman Cameron Johnson is a large target who impressed last season and will make an immediate impact. Former Warrior baseball great Tony Mueller has also entered the receiving mix and will look to earn reps. Freshmen Peyton Armstrong, Brett Classen, Joe Falzon, Joel Hinke and Joe Loftus will also try to earn their way onto the field.
The Warriors are experienced at the tight end position, with a pair of seniors leading the way. The group doesn't have a large number of catches between them, but are downfield threats while also proving to be excellent blockers. Alex Jensen saw four of his five receptions go for touchdowns last season and will be called on to increase his contributions to the Warrior passing attack. Ismal Karon came on strong late last season while Jacob Bambenek will also fight for playing time. Redshirt freshman Nick Margiotta and true freshmen Chandler Arredondo will also look to make their marks.
While skill position players get the glory, the Winona State offensive line keeps the team humming. The Warriors return four starters from a line that helped the team set a NSIC and WSU single-season record for total offense last year. The Warriors averaged 480 yards per game, including a school-record 782-yard explosion at Augustana. Center Richard Lilla is in his fourth season as a starter and is one of the top players in the country, regardless of position. He was an All-American last season and is joined by fellow preseason All-American Vance Ross up front. Seniors Cory Christianson and James Poliquin also have extensive starting experience and will look to return to form again in 2012. Mark Smit spent last season backing up Lilla while sophomores Tyler Bross and Nicholas Fisher will look to see their contributions increase. Ben Reinartz redshirted last season and will have a shot to earn the final starting spot on the line, while Tyler Lund and Steve Smith are also coming off a redshirt season. Winona State signed a large class of talented linemen who will be entering their first collegiate camp. Junior college transfer Keegan Schneider will be asked to contribute right away, while Brady Achtenhagen, TJ Bartels, Joe Diedrich, Vincent Fallico, Jake Gronholz, Jack Janett and Derrick Thingvold will try to acclimate themselves to the Warrior offense quickly.
Despite having to replace two starters on the defensive line, Winona State returns plenty of experience in the trenches. Parker Detjens and Anthony Frisby both saw extensive time as the anchor of the WSU defensive line last year, and their efforts will be bolstered by the return of Kyle English. Frisby made 26 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year while Detjens collected 20 stops and a pair of sacks. Tyler Kubler is a fantastic pass-rusher on the end, totaling 21 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles last season. The defensive end position will also be bolstered by the return of Kevin Lindeman who suffered a season-ending injury in the Warriors' opening game of 2012. Sophomores David Parmentier, Stephen Styza and Dylan Thill will all have a chance to increase their playing time after another offseason in the WSU system. Newcomers Paul Boidanis, Victor Cieslak, Mike Iyobhebhe and Marquise Jenkins are highly thought of by the coaching staff as well.
Linebacker will be a strength of the Warrior defense, with three starters returning in the team's 3-4 scheme. Morgan Weaver made a huge jump during his sophomore season, finishing second on the Warrior squad with 58 tackles while leading the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (5.5). Ryan Gerts produced another solid season, making 50 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Ian Murray was outstanding in his freshman campaign in 2012, also collecting 50 stops while forcing a team-high three fumbles. Senior Turrell Foster had 42 tackles and three sacks last season, and will continue to see plenty of snaps. Collin Corcoran played at middle linebacker as a true freshman, making 36 tackles. Aaron-Anderson Walker should also see an increase in productivity after playing six games as a sophomore in 2012, as should senior Ryan Singler. Sophomores Kyle Coon, Charlie Haben, Austin Opfer and Gage Ridenour will each push to see action, as will redshirt freshmen Jarvis Franklin, Mike Imperiale, Obed Jean-Baptiste, Jarrett Wood and Lauden Wood. True freshmen Justin Bergeron, Keith Schwickerath, David Sobkowicz and DaShawn Williams will have the benefit of learning from a strong group of upperclassmen during their first year as Warriors.
Winona State will have a new look in its defensive backfield in 2013, with three starters gone from a season ago. The lone returner is Patrick Lazzara, a safety who made 30 tackles and intercepted two passes as a sophomore last season. Mitch Lunder and Matt Splon will be in the mix to start at the other safety position after making contributions at the position last year. Both starting cornerbacks are gone from 2012, with sophomore Tyler Swinford and junior Larry Mbayu leading the charge to earn those starting spots. Sophomore Tamrick Atwood and freshman Anthony Cantanese will also get looks at the cornerback position. Numbers will certainly be on the team's side in the secondary, with senior Mike Barton and sophomores Derek Smidt and Brad Walovitch looking to force their way into the team's rotation. Junior college transfers Tevin Ivy, AJ Shipp and Leo Watkins will be looked to for immediate contributions as well. A large group of freshmen will also have a chance to make an impression on the field throughout the fall.
Half of the kicking game will be experienced, with the Warriors returning senior punter Jeremy Neuman. Neuman averaged 34.2 yards per punt last season while downing 11 inside the opponent's 20 yardline. Sophomores Nick Taylor and Jordan Weyer will have a chance to compete for time at kicker, while big things are expected from freshman Brett Cochran-Bray. Chichi Ojika was an all-region performer while averaging 26.9 yards per kickoff return last year, while Alan May also saw time bringing back kicks. May was the team's primary punt returner in 2012, averaging 10.3 yards per kick return. Redshirt freshman Paul Preston will also have an opportunity to make his mark in the return game.
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