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INDOOR FOOTBALL: Matthews Jr. a fixture for Axemen

Warren Mathews Jr. plays both offense and defense for the Axemen, making things happen both ways. Here he makes a tackle during a recent game against the Texas Revolution at the Sanford Center. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Warren Matthews Jr. is in a small group within his Bemidji Axemen teammates.

The former Southwest Minnesota State running back is one of nine players on the current roster — 23 players as of Wednesday — who suited up for the Axemen in the season opener against Green Bay in February.

The Axemen (5-8) host the Cedar Rapids Titans today in the final home game of the season.

“Warren has done a great job for us,” Axemen head coach Robert Fuller said. “One thing he has brought to our team is consistency. He is one of the only guys to in almost every game for us and has consistently produced all season.”

Included in the high turnover rate is the quarterback position. The Axemen have had four different signal callers this season: Hunter Wanket, Josh Aakre, Ryan Balentine and Cody Kirby. Matthews Jr. admits it has not been easy playing with so many quarterbacks in a season, but calls it a privilege to play with four guys with different skill sets.

“It has been tough, but all quarterbacks have been great,” Matthews Jr. said. “I respect them all and they are all great leaders. It has been a privilege to play with each of them.”

Similarly, Matthews Jr. — typically playing in the backfield or out of the slot — has not had a consistent crew of fellow route runners, but said it has been easy playing in an offense when he has always been surrounded by talent.

Balentine and DeMario Pippen have been with the team all season and have each missed one game, while Philander Browder, Nick Truesdell, De’Markus Washington and Josh Jarboe have combined to fill in for Bemidji’s offense.

“Everybody that has come through has been very talented,” Matthews Jr. said. “We were fortunate enough to have Nick Truesdell and now Josh Jarboe. Add in Ryan Balentine, DeMario Pippen, and Philander Browder, it has been great to play with all of them.”

For Fuller, who is calling the plays on offense, it has been more of a challenge preparing game plans with different players nearly every game.

“This has probably been one of the most challenging seasons I have ever had as a head coach and offensive coordinator,” Fuller said. “It is tough enough in this league to produce and with this much turnover, it has been even more difficult.”

On the season, Matthews Jr. has gained 529 yards of total offense on the season with 11 touchdowns.

His success has come in a league that is filled with players who went to schools much larger than SMSU, of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. But Fuller said it is a goal of the organization to find talent within the NSIC and help them further their football careers with the Axemen.

“That is ultimately where we want to go with this, to have a strong NSIC presence on our football team,” Fuller said. “He is a good example of a regional guy who has come in and done a great job to put himself in position to further his football career.”

Matthews Jr. said he hopes to show other NSIC players, in particular former BSU running back Avery Walker, that they can make it in the IFL.

“I was talking with Avery during last week’s game,” Matthews Jr. said. “I just wanted to tell him that he could play in this league, even coming from a smaller conference.”

As the season comes near an end and the Axemen have been eliminated from playoff contention, even more players have left the team for various reasons.

Fuller and Matthews Jr. both insisted there will be plenty to play for in the final two weeks of the season.

“The guys came up here to win football games and to get film to move up,” Fuller said. “They still have two opportunities to continue to get better and position themselves to advance.”

“It all comes down to pride and film,” Matthews Jr. said. “You cannot just go out there and not play hard. You are going to make yourself look bad. At this point in the season, you just have to remember what you came here for every time you step on that field.”

Bemidji will host the Cedar Rapids Titans tonight in its final game at the Sanford Center and will wrap up its inaugural season next weekend in Green Bay.

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