One more day before the offseason begins

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota is a little more than four months away from opening its 2009 football schedule, one that likely will be the most challenging in the program's history.

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota is a little more than four months away from opening its 2009 football schedule, one that likely will be the most challenging in the program's history.

At the top of the schedule is Texas Tech, a pass-first team that was in the mix for a national championship late into the 2008 season.

As UND approaches its second Division I season, the Sioux now find themselves on a stage light years beyond the Division II ranks.

The Sept. 5 game in Lubbock, Texas, against the Red Raiders already has generated a buzz.

"Everybody says, 'What about Texas Tech? What about Texas Tech?" UND cornerback Dominique Hawkins said. "I just look at it as a new experience for all of us. It will just make us all work a lot harder during the offseason."


UND's offseason officially begins today following the conclusion of the annual Green-White spring game in the Alerus Center. The game begins noon MDT.

The game will wrap up the spring season for the Sioux, who are looking to come out of their 15 practices healthy and some experience for a youthful offense that was hit especially hard by graduation on the offensive line.

"We have a ways to go," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "We're young on the offensive line but we have good kids there. We just need some seasoning. But we'll have to throw those kids into the fire Sept. 5."

UND's spring season was good for the Sioux defense.

The Sioux should have quality depth on the defensive line and in the secondary.

Their two cornerbacks -- Hawkins and Delano Saporu -- have been solid throughout the spring.

"We've been playing together," said Hawkins, the most experienced returning cornerback for the Sioux. "We've been energetic."

Today's game also features the return of two former Sioux standouts now in the NFL.


Minnesota's Jim Kleinsasser and Denver's Chris Kuper both were at UND's practice Friday.

Both spoke to the team following the 80-minute practice.

"I'm so proud of those guys for coming back," Mussman said. "They've been so gracious with their time. It's a testament to Grand Forks and their experiences at UND.

"It was special to have them back in our locker room."

But Hawkins, who had 50 tackles and three interceptions last season, said the focus is now on the future.

"Each year, we're going to have one of those big games," Hawkins said. "So we'll have more to look forward to. It will be an experience to see what we're made of.

"We'll all be put to the test. But I'm really looking forward to the season."

Defense has the advantage


UND is expected to return eight starters on defense when it opens the season Sept. 5 at Texas Tech.

So it's no surprise that UND's defense has had the upper hand during most of the spring season.

The defensive line has been a major strength, highlighted by a trio of noseguards -- Ty Boyle, Broc Bellmore and Devin Benjamin. Depth at the position has allowed the Sioux to move Nathan Wayne -- last year's noseguard -- to defensive end.

Wayne's size could give UND an advantage on the edge of its defensive line. During recent practices, Mussman said the 6-foot-2, 275-pound Wayne has made it difficult at times for the offensive line.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the spring season, however, has been Saporu, the sophomore cornerback who sat out last season with a lacerated kidney.

Saporu played as a true freshman before going down with a kidney injury a few days before last year's first game.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder, however, has made an impact during spring drills.

"Delano is showing emotion when he makes a play and he hasn't done that," Mussman said. "The year off helped him to sit back and take everything in."


Saporu, Hawkins and Kenny Watkins all could see considerable playing time in the fall.

Like the defensive line, the Sioux depth at cornerback is as good as it's been in recent years.

"The other day during practice, I saw more defensive backs standing in line than I did offensive linemen," Mussman said.

A new analyst? will offer a webcast of today's game, which begins at noon. Dan Hammer, the radio voice of Sioux football, will handle the play-by-play. Mussman will serve as Hammer's first-half analyst.

Mussman joked that he'll have to keep his emotions in check during the webcast.

"Hopefully, they'll have a seven-second delay," Mussman said.

The Grand Forks Herald and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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