After fruitful offseason, Dickinson State opens fall practice with lofty expectations
Dickinson State held its first official football practice of the season Tuesday, which means, officially, the last few summer months were the offseason for the Blue Hawks. But for 50 or so of the returning 70 players on the roster from last seaso...
Dickinson State held its first official football practice of the season Tuesday, which means, officially, the last few summer months were the offseason for the Blue Hawks.
But for 50 or so of the returning 70 players on the roster from last season, Tuesday’s practice, full of route running, conditioning and pep talks with teammates, was hardly any different from what they’ve been doing all summer.
Those 50 or so players spent the past few months in Dickinson, crammed into houses and apartments, lifting, running, working, and generally getting closer as a team.
A year after a conference title and a playoff berth, all that camaraderie and workout time can only mean good things for coach Pete Stanton and his staff.
It’s also the most players Stanton has seen stick around during the summer “in a long, long time.”
“We had an excellent summer. It was really as good as it could be,” he said. “We’re really proud of our guys’ effort all summer long. They were all in and our commitment and dedication was there. That’s nice - knowing that going into the season.”
The most telling part? The summertime spent in Dickinson was a voluntary decision, not a mandatory one, said Stanton.
Senior quarterback Kaler Ray, entering his fourth season as captain, was one of those guys who stuck aroun
“That’s a huge key to being a successful program, having guys commit to the summer,” Ray said. “It was a lot of lifting, a lot of conditioning. But a lot of bro time. A lot of hanging out off the football field, which is just as important as putting the work in in the weight room.”
No scramble for a QB
When Ray, the starting quarterback his first two seasons, went down last year during training camp with a broken collarbone, the Blue Hawks were tasked with finding a new quarterback on the fly.
Ray showed up feeling good on Tuesday, fresh off a healthy and fruitful summer. For now, the quarterback questions are no longer.
“Having him back there, and a few other guys who have played back there is exciting,” Stanton said of Ray and his quarterback depth. “(Ray’s) just steady on the field. He runs the ball really well. That’s obviously a great quality of his. Then his leadership skills. He’s a tremendous teammate and leader and that’s what makes him go.”
After sitting out a significant amount of gametime for the first time in his career at any level, Ray’s excitement after practice was practically tangible.
“The collarbone feels great. It’s been good,” Ray said. “It’s the best, being out there. Nothing beats being out here with the fellas. That’s what you do it for.”
Ray played sparingly last season after returning from his injury, completing 24 passes - eight of them touchdowns - in parts of four games.
In 10 games as a sophomore, Ray threw for 11 touchdowns and 1,277 pass yards, while adding 591 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Preseason polls not worth much
Two preseason coaches polls were released Monday; both were good news for the Blue Hawks. A North Star Athletic Association poll pegged Dickinson State as the favorite to win the conference. The other one was an NAIA-wide preseason ranking. The Blue Hawks found themselves at No. 21.
Are those things nice to hear?
“It’s nice to get the recognition, certainly,” Stanton said. “But what I told them is, ‘We want those polls to be in our favor when the year’s done.’ That’s what we’re shooting for.”
Does it ultimately matter?
“It doesn’t mean much to me. I almost wish we weren’t. It would give some guys some fire,” Ray said. “The fans might like it. It’s good for the boosters, but I can tell you, none of the guys in here are too concerned about that.”
If anything, defensive captain and senior linebacker Drew Johnson said those polls reflect last season, which the Blue Hawks insist is in the past.
“We don’t pay much attention to it. That’s projections from last year to this year. We can’t be concerned about that,” said Johnson, who recorded 66 tackles last season. “We had a good season. We got to the playoffs, but we didn’t accomplish what we wanted. That’s in the backdoor.”
In another press release Tuesday, seven Blue Hawks were named to the NSAA preseason team: running back Tray Boone, offensive linemen Jeff Fisher, defensive backs Rob Nalewaja and Jay Liggins, linebackers Drew Johnson and Thomas Sease, and defensive lineman Noey Tauave.
Meet the Hawks
The Blue Hawks will hold a meet and greet at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8 at the Beisiot Activities Center. As a collaboration between Dickinson State’s booster club and local businesses, free t-shirts, soda and hot dogs will be given out to all kids in attendance.