Feeling right at home: Rongstad ready to assume starting quarterback role for Beavers
Lance Rongstad was fishing Tuesday on an area lake with his Bemidji State football teammates taking in one last summer day before the season officially arrived.
"I was looking around thinking and we were talking - this is such a great place to play. I love it here and there's no place that I would rather be," Rongstad said.
The versatile two-sport junior athlete is a native of Eleva, Wis. He will step in as the Beavers' starting quarterback this fall. The BSU basketball player brings a unique set of skills into the 2011 football season: he has playing experience as a quarterback, wide receiver, running back and punt returner at Bemidji State.
But quarterback is where he feels at home.
"This is something I've been waiting for since I was a little kid," Rongstad said. "It really means a lot to me to be the starter and I'm very, very excited. The guys over the summer have been so supportive of me and it has given me a lot of confidence going into the season."
Rongstad has been an impact player at BSU. He was a prep standout at Eleva-Strum High School where he led his team to a 26-2 record, two state championship games and one state championship. He also led his basketball team to back-to-back state tournament trips.
Rongstad said he grew up seeing himself as a basketball player. BSU head football coach Jeff Tesch said Rongstad was looking to walk on for the University of Wisconsin basketball team before he accepted the scholarship to come play for the Beavers.
"One of his biggest strengths is his athletic ability and his abilities to make big plays at spots other than the quarterback position," Tesch said.
Rongstad's first rushing attempt as a Beaver was a 46-yard touchdown in a season-opening victory over Minot State in 2009. He was able to find a niche in the BSU offense by relieving starting quarterback Derek Edholm as a third-down quarterback.
By the end of the season Rongstad ranked second on the team in rushing, passing and averaged a team-high 14.5 yards per catch as a receiver despite playing through a sprained ankle late in the year. He averaged 12 points per game on the basketball team and was named the BSU athletic department's Male Newcomer of the Year.
Rongstad specialized more as a punt returner last season but saw plenty of touches as a rusher in a shortened season. He accumulated 274 all-purpose yards in seven games before undergoing a surgical scoping procedure to clean out his knee. He along with teammate Justin Lee were the only players in the NSIC to have a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown last season.
"Playing with Derek was really beneficial to me and he was very helpful in helping me learn the position," Rongstad said. "It helped playing the other positions to because this year I know what the other players are seeing out there and where I need to throw the ball. I love the offense and I think I'm a good fit."
Rongstad's playbook knowledge and game experience will help with his transition to an every-down player.
He knows the challenges of BSU's offense, which features short passes designed to get receivers open quickly. It is one area where Tesch sees an opportunity for Rongstad's game to improve.
"We know he can tuck the football and run but one thing he can work on is making his reads a little bit quicker," Tesch said. "We expect great things from him because when we know training camp is done his skills will be ready for that first game."
Rongstad started in 12 basketball games last season for the Beavers and averaged 11 points per game. The opportunity to play basketball was a deciding factor to attend BSU as Tesch promised he would not keep Rongstad from playing in the winter.
Rongstad said the biggest challenge of playing two collegiate sports is the time spent on the road from August to February. The demanding travel schedule in the NSIC reaches west to the Dakotas, south to Nebraska, Iowa and southern Minnesota.
"Traveling is the toughest thing and it can be brutal sometimes," Rongstad said. "The workout and practice schedules for basketball and football are pretty similar with times and they don't overlap so that really isn't much of an issue. It's funny because I get better grades when I'm playing in season than when I'm out of season."
And the season is here once again.
"Lance has been a winner in everything he's done," Tesch said. "When it's fourth down or first down and we need to go the length of the field, I feel very comfortable. He's won state championships and he's won everywhere he's been. He's that kind of kid."