FOOTBALL: BHS grad Schmidt among deep Bemidji State receiving corps (photo gallery)
BEMIDJI -- It's no surprise that Brady Schmidt's speed has turned out to be his biggest asset on the Bemidji State football team.
The sophomore wide receiver was a standout sprinter at Bemidji High School. He was also a star running back for the Lumberjacks football team.
But Schmidt, at an athletic but not imposing 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, wasn't sure exactly what his role would be for the Beavers when he joined the team as a freshman in 2013.
"Last year I was more of a special teams guy," Schmidt said Thursday following BSU's first day of fall camp. "I guess they didn't know where to put me. But I'm excited to maybe have a bigger role this year. We'll see how the year goes."
Schmidt was truly all over the place on the field last season. He had five catches for 45 yards, carried the ball three times for 20 yards and returned nine kickoffs for 177 yards.
BSU head football coach Jeff Tesch thinks Schmidt has finally found his place this season -- as a slot receiver in a deep, talented but very young receiving corps that he hopes can break out this year.
"We brought him in and we knew he had speed," Tesch said of Schmidt. "We didn't know what we'd use him as since running back was backed up.
"But we found out he caught the ball better than we thought. Then during the spring we realized we can do some of our handoff and sweep stuff with him, so he can kind of be a running back and we can still throw the ball to him."
Schmidt figures to spend most of his time in the slot position so he can take handoff sweeps and do short out routes.
"It excites us when he catches the ball, what he can do with it after a reception," Tesch said. "Those are some of the things he brings. He has good speed, his hands are better than we thought and he can make plays after he catches it."
The Beavers start the 2014 preseason looking forward to erasing taste of a turgid 2013 in which they finished 3-8, and their young receiving corps should be a big part of that turnaround.
In addition to Schmidt, sophomores Juwaan Richard and Vince Dinkel both saw lots of playing time as true freshmen last season while junior Jordan Noskowiak has converted from tight end for this season. All are smaller but fast and know how to make plays after making the catch.
Richard, who had nine catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns as well as 261 kick return yards, was named an NSIC player to watch this season as both a wideout and return specialist. Noskowiak caught 20 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns to lead the team while Dinkel had 115 yards and a touchdown and sophomore Matt Summers had 133 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm excited about this group," Tesch said. "The speed and the depth of the receiving corps looks really solid. Last year we had tons and tons of young kids who hadn't played much. Now they're all a year older. It's one of the position groups I'm most excited about to see play."
BSU finished last in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in passing offense -- just 1,353 yards, 11 receiving touchdowns and seven interceptions given up.
Tesch and Schmidt both think the receivers will improve with an extra year of experience.
"We have a young receiving corps, so it's kinda up for grabs here depending how the camp goes," he said. "A lot of us last year, it was our first year. Most of us had never even taken a snap in college. Now a lot of us have actually gotten in game play so we know what's up.
"We have a very young corps, but that's good because we're all very athletic but we're all learning at the same pace and getting better."
The quarterback position will also be more consistent, as sophomore Ryan Shields will also be a more experienced passer after struggling his freshman season. Northern Iowa transfer Jordan Hein also figures to factor into the quarterback race.
Tesch said he still wasn't sure exactly which formation will work most for the Beavers this season -- Thursday was, after all, the first practice of the season. BSU has three weeks until its Sept. 6 opener at Wayne State.
"We're trying to find out our best formations to have on the field," Tesch said. "Is it four wideouts, is it three wideouts and a tight end, is it a pro set? We're kind] of in that experimental stage in what is our go-to formation right now."
"I definitely think we have a lot of potential," Schmidt added. "We also have a lot of skill coming in on the offensive side. We have a lot of fire under us after coming off the season we had last year. everyone's a little angry about how the season ended last year and we all want to come back stronger this year."