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Bemidji State tight end Troy Dale puts his jersey on his shoulder pads in their newly remodeled locker room Friday afternoon. Beaver football players reported to campus Friday to receive equipment and gear. Practice officially starts today. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Beavers report to football camp eager to hit the field

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BEMIDJI - The Bemidji State football team doesn't need much motivation this season. But if anyone needed confirmation, the sounds of Skrillex engulfing the newly-renovated Beaver locker room Friday was a pretty good sign: The Beavers are excited to get back onto the field.

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"There's a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation toward the new season," Bemidji State linebacker Buckley Wright said. "We've got a good group of guys back. And we get to come back to a nice locker room."

The locker room, of course, isn't the main attraction for the new and returning Beavers, who returned to campus Friday for training camp. It's a perk.

And they're focused on bigger and better things. Like winning a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title. NSIC coaches tabbed the Beavers sixth in the conference, behind heavyweights Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State.

"We're always focused on beating the bigger teams," left guard Brett DeLange said. "I feel like in the past couple years we've gone up in this conference, and I feel like we're in a good spot to compete with all these teams right now."

The Beavers didn't take the field Friday, instead spending most of the day checking in, receiving equipment and having team meetings.

They'll take the field today for the first time - the first of 22 straight days of practice before their first game against Upper Iowa on Aug. 31.

Defensive coordinator Rich Jahner said about 105 players showed up on the first day, including about 40-ish newcomers (freshmen and transfers). They'll have to whittle down the roster to 98 by the time school starts Aug. 27.

One thing is certain: None of the 100-plus players who reported to camp Friday needed any motivation.

"Oh, not at all," quarterback and co-captain Lance Rongstad said. "Everybody's pumped to be back for the first week or so at least. At least, before everyone gets too sore and down on themselves, but it's fun to be back."

"The first couple days the mood is pretty light," Wright said. "There's not much to work on. Lot of paperwork, meetings, getting back in the swing of things.

"But as soon as strap it on (Saturday) it will be intense. We're all excited to be back. We've got high expectations."

Those expectations include improving on a 7-3 season from 2011 and making the postseason - something the Beavers haven't done since 2006.

One key, DeLange said, is consistency. The Beavers beat No. 6 St. Cloud State last season and almost topped No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth but lost on the road at University of Mary and Northern State.

And this season, the Beavers travel to Duluth, St. Cloud and Mankato (another perennial NSIC power). Taking care of business at home is a top priority.

"We had some games that we really messed up, some where we played really well," DeLange said. "We've got a lot of big games. Winning at home is going to be important. We have a lot of good tough away games so we have to buckle down and play well at home."

Wright, a defensive co-captain, elaborated.

"It's going to be huge," he said of playing at home. "We've got to take all the advantages that we can. Having the home crowd and the home field advantage, playing up here when it's cold. We're going to need all of that."

The Beavers host Upper Iowa under the lights Aug. 31 - a Friday night.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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