A new eraGRAND FORKS — A new era of University of North Dakota football finally has arrived.
By: Wayne Nelson, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — A new era of University of North Dakota football finally has arrived.
When UND takes on South Dakota School of Mines tonight in the Alerus Center, it will be a game of firsts for the program.
What’s new? Plenty, including:
- UND starts the season as a full Division I FCS program, meaning it is eligible for the postseason for the first time since its Division II days.
- A new turf will be used for the first time in the Alerus Center, one that’s expected to be more forgiving on UND players.
- The Big Sky Conference. Tonight’s game will be UND’s first as a member of the Big Sky Conference. UND was accepted in the Big Sky on Nov. 1, 2010, perhaps the biggest day of the school’s difficult five-year transition to Division I athletics.
- More media exposure. All of UND’s home games will be televised this season, either by Midcontinent Communications or Root TV, which has partnered with the Big Sky to carry many games.
- Uniforms. UND will unveil its new black uniforms tonight against Mines, a significant change from the years of Kelly green tops and white pants.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of UND,” coach Chris Mussman said.
The opener comes against a team not expected to push UND, a thought that naturally draws a not true response from the program’s coaches.
Mines was winless last season and has had only one winning season in the last 26 years.
“We’re going into the game kind of blind and that’s the scary part,” Mussman said. “We don’t know a lot about them. We have some film from last year but they have a new coaching staff and a new philosophy. And you know their guys are going to be jacked up.”
Stacy Collins is Mines’ new coach. He was the special teams coach last season at Portland State, which comes to Grand Forks next week to meet UND.
“The special teams at Portland State last year were pretty good,” Mussman said. “They use them as a weapon. They always had something different for each game.”
Mines is transitioning from NAIA to NCAA Division II. The Hardrockers return roughly 35 players from last year and have brought in nearly 50 new players — most of them graduated high school seniors.
Despite the buzz about the new era of UND football, senior defensive end Ross Brenneman is trying the keep the focus on the Hardrockers.
“The wins and losses fall on the senior class,” Brenneman said. “The other seniors feel the same way. We have to step it up no matter what.”
Braden Hanson was a backup quarterback at North Carolina before transferring to UND for his final season. He simply wanted a chance to play and felt UND was his best option.
“I can’t wait and I’m really excited,” Hanson said. “My parents are coming up to see the game. I’m excited to get out there and throw the ball around.”
Perhaps the biggest storyline tonight will be Hanson’s performance as the left-hander will lead UND into Big Sky Conference play.
“If we play well every week, we have a chance to compete for a Big Sky championship and get into the playoffs,” Hanson said.
UND made it through fall camp in good health, minus the usual bumps and bruises.
Only one player is expected to miss tonight’s game.
“The Good Lord heals on game week,” Mussman said.
Offensive lineman Joe Kleason, however, won’t play. He missed the spring season and fall camp with a foot injury.
“It’s week to week or month to month with him,” Mussman said. “It could be the whole season. We just don’t know how his foot will heal.”
Ian McGurran, Darren Deneui, Emmett Lynch and Caleb Gilson — all experienced — will start on the line tonight. The fifth starter, said Mussman, could be redshirt freshman Brandon Anderson, a 6-foot-6, 293-pounder from Sartell, Minn.
South Dakota Mines is expected to start Mike Zanutto at quarterback. He is a transfer from Delta College in California…Tonight’s crowd is expected to be between 9,000 and 10,000.