BEMIDJI - Graduation took a bite out of the Bemidji State football roster, and the coaching staff definitely has a few holes to fill.
The first steps in finding those replacements are taken during the spring football practice sessions, and the BSU staff and players are making the most of their 15 allotted sessions.
"Spring is the time when you want to fill the holes," Beavers head coach Jeff Tesch said. "We're a little thin this year because of graduation, class conflicts and injuries. But we do have 22 guys on each play lining up and working hard."
Among the most immediate concerns facing the staff is shoring up the defensive secondary, especially the safety position
"We need to replace three graduated safeties -- Dusty Sluzewicz, Jake Schmidt and Brody Scheff," said defensive coordinator Rich Jahner. "Those three players were all veteran leaders who have been with us for five years. Now we have to completely reload at that position."
Among the potential safeties making an impression this spring are Scott Christensen, who was a redshirt freshman last fall, and junior college transfer Jordan Abaroa.
At 24 years of age, Abaroa is not your typical small college football player.
Originally from Gilbert, Ariz., Abaroa spent two years away from the game to complete his Mormon missionary work in Spokane, Wash. The past two seasons he played for Scottsdale Community College.
"Our mascot was a fighting artichoke," Abaroa said. "One day a film crew came to campus and we were told that it was from ESPN and that they were doing a story on the worst mascots in the country."
During the offseason Abaroa verbally committed to Adams State of Colorado, but during the Christmas holiday Jahner got together with Abaroa while on a family vacation in Phoenix.
"I was impressed with Jordan," Jahner said. "And I asked him to take a leap of faith and try Bemidji State."
That conversation sparked a whirlwind chain of events that included immediate research on northern Minnesota, a call to Adams State stating he was headed to Bemidji, a wedding on Jan. 7, a 40-hour drive to Bemidji three days later and enrollment at BSU.
"When you take a leap of faith, based solely on a conversation, you do feel nervous," Abaroa said. "Especially when you take that 40-hour drive only three days after your wedding."
Abaroa and his wife, Taylor, have never regretted the decision.
"Immediately upon coming to Bemidji, Taylor loved it," he said. "And I love getting to know the guys and their personalities.
"I've been on teams full of talent that went nowhere," Abaroa continued. "What I see in this team is the opportunity to grow in a brotherly way and when you do that you also grow on the field and build a championship caliber team."
The nervous tension of leaving Arizona, joining a new team and surviving his first Minnesota winter has passed. Now Abaroa can concentrate on football and being a part of the Beaver family.
"The character of the guys can determine a championship team and here the coaches have found guys with talent, with character and with class," he said. 'For me, looking at the situation with an outsider's view, I noticed that right away."
"Jordan is wise beyond his years," Jahner said. "He has brought maturity, character and leadership to our program and those are qualities that we need. Jordan is exactly what you look for in a leader."
For at least two years Abaroa and his wife will call Bemidji home and the couple is eagerly awaiting their future in northern Minnesota.
"Taylor landed a nice job right away, we found a nice place to live but more importantly, we felt welcomed from the first day," Abaroa said. "That welcome was a confirmation that this is the place for us to be."