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FNS Photo by Luke Franke University of North Dakota sophomore quarterback Joe Mollberg, right, drops back and throws down field during a drill August 2 at Memorial Coliseum in Grand Forks.

UND holds first practice of fall camp with 30 new faces

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GRAND FORKS — On a near picture-perfect morning, the University of North Dakota launched its 2014 football season Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Not surprisingly, the first practice of for UND’s 119th season certainly had its share of enthusiasm.

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“This is a big day for our team,” first-year UND head coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We told our guys at the beginning that this is the most important day, how we start and what kind of enthusiasm and energy we have on Day 1. That’s pretty important.

“Now, Day 2 will be the most important. We’re not trying to give this day-by-day approach lip service. We want it to be real.”

And the reality of this season is that it’s a new era of UND football.

A coaching change in the offseason resulted in a considerably different looking roster from the 2013 season, one that ended with UND finishing 3-8 and falling far short of gaining traction in the Big Sky Conference.

There were 90 players that reported Saturday. More than 30 are new to the program.

“We have a challenge here with our new guys,” Schweigert said. “A third of our guys are new, so working them into the mix and getting them comfortable with the practice routine is a big challenge for us. I thought they hung in there pretty well and I thought the vets did a nice job of pulling them along in the right direction.”

Schweigert said the pace and enthusiasm for the first practice was acceptable.

“We were good between drills and there was good energy,” he said. “The first day is easy. Everyone is excited the first day. Now, we have to see if we have that same energy on Day 2.

“I thought the guys were excited to be out here. Obviously, they have worked long and hard to get to this point.”

For the players who have been in the program for a couple of years, the first practice had a different feel.

“From the time I’ve been here, this is probably the best I’ve felt about the first practice,” said sophomore quarterback Joe Mollberg, who will battle Ryan Bartels for the No. 1 spot. “We’ve never started out with a two-minute drill. In spring ball, that was the last thing we worked on. It went well. We had a lot of completions. The pace went really well.”

Both Mollberg and Bartels were sharp during the 11-on-11 drill held in the final 10 minutes of the two-hour practice.

Mollberg took the first series and completed his first seven throws. Bartels went 8-for-8 during his series.

The quarterback battle likely will highlight UND’s fall camp. But Schweigert has stressed that all positions are open. Nothing is guaranteed as a new coaching staff is in place.

And the turmoil of last year is all but forgotten.

“Last year was disappointing, obviously,” junior linebacker Dayo Idowu said. “We’re more than ready to get back out there. Coach Schweigert has pushed us from the get-go. I commend our guys staying together through the adversity.”

Defensively, UND won’t change much. Schweigert, who was an assistant at UND for 15 seasons before leaving in 2004, helped install the program’s 3-4 defense — one predicated on pressure.

And that suits Idowu just fine.

“It’s always nice to have a defensive-minded guy as a coach,” said Idowu, a chemical engineering major. “Coach Schweigert was the (defensive) coordinator here when they were winning national championships. And look at his credentials at Southern Illinois when he was there. They had some of the best defenses they ever had.

“Pressure makes people do stupid things. I’m a scientist so I like to say pressure bursts pipes. I really agree with coach’s philosophy. I’m really excited to get going.”

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Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268
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