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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State looking beyond historic 2021 as fall camp opens

BSU opened fall camp on Monday at Chet Anderson Stadium, a welcome reintroduction to the regular season and the possibilities that lay ahead on the gridiron.

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Offensive linemen run through a drill during Bemidji State's first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- Brandon Alt has been around the block a few times. And yet, somehow, the feeling never gets old.

“The excitement that’s in the air (is special),” said Alt, the starting quarterback on the Bemidji State football team. “In the weeks before, everyone’s talking about it. When the day finally comes, it’s like, ‘Ah, we’re here.’ You can tell.”

BSU opened fall camp on Monday at Chet Anderson Stadium, a welcome reintroduction to the regular season and the possibilities that lay ahead on the gridiron.

The Beavers, fresh off the best year in program history, have plenty to be excited about. But they’re not thinking about all they accomplished last fall. By now, they’re firmly focused on what the encore will entail.

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Bemidji State junior quarterback Brandon Alt (10) claps during a team stretch on the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“The past is the past. We move on and get ready to go for 2022,” head coach Brent Bolte said. “We want to focus on the present. The big picture obviously is out there, but take it day by day.”

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RELATED: Transcendent season nets Bemidji State football 2021 Pioneer Team of the Year award

That businesslike mindset was apparent at practice, but the mood still featured an energetic flair. Sunshine drenched the field in warmth, enthusiastic cheers rang out loud and upbeat music matched the team’s rhythm.

As Bemidji State proved on Monday, the start of fall camp has a vibe akin to an elementary student’s first day of school -- just with 300-pound linemen instead of Elmer’s glue and color crayons.

“It never gets old,” senior defensive end/linebacker Zollie Kaplan said. “You just feel like a little kid over and over again. Excited to break out your new moves and meet your new teammates.”

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Bemidji State senior Zollie Kaplan (18) practices a drill during the first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

For captains like Alt and Kaplan, the start of camp is also an opportunity to help guide the newcomers and build a lasting tradition. As Bolte put it, the veteran players fill out a staff of “60, 70 coaches.”

“It’s really just going back to the basics,” Alt said. “We want to get back to the small stuff. … What’s exciting is how many older guys we have and how much leadership we can give to these younger guys.”

And although the team is no longer content with past successes from 2021, it sure doesn’t hurt to look back at the blueprint every once in a while.

“Of course, the bar is set extremely high,” Kaplan said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us for this coming season, but we want the pressure. This is something that we’ve wanted for a long time. Hopefully we can meet those expectations and do it again this year.

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“But the standard hasn’t changed. The standard and expectation has always been a conference championship and onto a national championship. Last year was obviously the first year that we got it done, and hopefully we can do it again.”

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Defensive players huddle together before practicing a drill during Bemidji State's first day of fall practice on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

BSU’s new season will start at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1, at home against Minnesota State. A road game against Augustana awaits in Week 2, so the opening few games will be anything but a cakewalk.

But the Beavers also wield plenty of weapons from last year’s 10-3 conference championship squad. Ten starters are back on offense -- led by the gunslinging Alt, a potent backfield, dynamic wideouts and a near-impenetrable offensive line.

The defensive unit took a blow and only brings back four starters, but Kaplan headlines the corps after recording 18.5 tackles for loss in 2021, the most for BSU in a single season since 1999.

“We feel pretty good about our returning guys, but building depth is always a big part (of camp),” Bolte said. “Getting out there fresh, you never know which guys are prepared and ready to take the next step.”

Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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