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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State’s O-line may go unnoticed, but they’re beloved in the huddle

Some days, Bill Ketola admitted, it’s hard to get up and put in the work -- knowing full well that he won’t get his fair share of recognition. But ask anyone around the Bemidji State football team, and there’s plenty of love for the big men on campus.

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Bemidji State freshman Bill Ketola (73) and the Beavers jog toward the locker room at halftime on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- Some days, Bill Ketola admitted, it’s hard to get up and put in the work -- knowing full well that he won’t get his fair share of recognition.

But that doesn’t stop him from the daily rise and grind.

“Offensive linemen, we have that mentality that we don’t get the stats or the accolades or get our names in the paper after the game,” the redshirt freshman said. “But we band together, do the dirty work in front. And we’re fine with that.”

Yet ask anyone around the Bemidji State football team, and there’s plenty of love for the big men on campus.

“Trust me,” head coach Brent Bolte said, “they go unnoticed by probably a lot of people in the community, but not us here at BSU. We love those guys.”

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Bemidji State's offensive line of Ty Cobb (76), Bill Ketola (73), Jake Gannon (62), Conor Kovas (69) and Will LeMire (68) analyze the defense before a snap on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer

By nature of their trade, offensive linemen are probably doing their job when you don’t notice them. But when you watch the quarterback sit back in a clean pocket or watch the running back explode up the middle, it’s their linemen who make that possible.

“When it’s work time, they’re always looking to get better,” running back Jalen Frye said. “I appreciate that about them. They don’t always get the love they deserve, but they do get it from the running backs and (quarterbacks) for sure. I hope they feel that because I really love them.”

Beside Ketola at right guard, All-American honorable mention Ty Cobb holds his own at right tackle, while All-NSIC center Jake Gannon occupies the middle of the line. All-NSIC left guard Conor Kovas tops the depth chart at his spot, and Kellan Wandtke anchors the line at left tackle.

“You have to trust the guys on either side of you,” Ketola said. “It’s not just about you. You can do your job perfectly, but all five guys have to do their job perfectly for it to be a good play. Building that trust and that camaraderie with each other is really important.”

“We’ve toyed around with a lot of different rotations on the O-line, which is nice to be able to do,” Bolte added. “They’ve molded into their own group, and the guys have taken their roles over.”

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Bemidji State offensive linemen Ty Cobb (76) and Bill Ketola (73) block during the first half against Concordia-St. Paul on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Micah Friez / Bemidji Pioneer

All season long, the Bemidji State offense has flourished. The Beavers are the lone team in Division II to average at least 350 passing yards and 140 rushing yards, and their average 496.2 yards of total offense ranks fourth in the country.

The O-line has only allowed five sacks through six games, tied for the 13th-lowest mark in the nation, and BSU’s 41.3 points per game is eighth in D-II and best in the NSIC.

For good measure, the offense’s third-down conversion rate of 52.0% is fourth in the country (as is the defense’s third-down conversion rate of 23.3%).

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“We have a lot of talented skill positions,” Ketola said. “To go out and help them maximize their talents and show off, that’s all we come out here to do. It’s really satisfying to see those stats and see those guys get their recognition.”

Bemidji State (4-2) will pit its wits against Minnesota State Moorhead (2-4) at noon on Saturday, Oct. 15, in Moorhead for the right to the Battle Axe Trophy, the second-oldest traveling trophy in Division II.

“They don’t like us, we don’t like them,” Bolte said. “The cool part of the rivalry is that a lot of these kids have played against each other in high school. … Ryan Bieberdorf from Bemidji is playing over there. Vice versa, we’ve got Moorhead kids on our side. It means a little bit more just because they’ve known each other for a long time.”

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The Beavers hoist the Battle Axe trophy after defeating Minnesota State Moorhead 22-19 on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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