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FOOTBALL: ‘Dog mentality’ fueling Bemidji State defense in hunt for revival

BSU will have its first opportunity to showcase a defensive resurgence on Thursday, but Week 1 will be anything but a cakewalk. Minnesota State, which led the NSIC and ranked ninth in the country with 40.1 points per game in 2021, comes to town for a season-opening visit. Yet if all goes according to plan, that’s a major feather in Bemidji State’s cap.

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Bemidji State's Colbey Wadsworth (45), Jaylen Jenkins (7) and James Moe (98) bring down U-Mary quarterback Logan Nelson (9) during a November 2021 game at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI -- There are three keys to playing defense for the Bemidji State football team.

“Discipline, obedience and grit,” senior defensive back Willie Spears III said.

That “dog” mentality instilled by first-year defensive coordinator Marcus McLin is what the Beavers hope will right the ship this season. After an outlier season in 2021, they finally have the chance to correct course.

“Our standard is pretty high here on defense,” BSU head coach Brent Bolte said. “Last year was a little frustrating. At times, we were really, really good, and at times, we gave up quite a few points.”

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Bemidji State junior Willie Spears III (29) intercepts a pass intended for Minnesota Duluth's Atmani Carmickle on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Forum News Service

Bemidji State surrendered 31.6 points per game in 2021, the program’s most since 2014 and a far cry from its proud “Gang Green” reputation. Opposing offenses scored 10.8 more points against the Beavers in 2021 than they did in 2019.

That’s where being a dog comes into play.

“We come out here with a mindset that we’ve got to be better than our opponent each and every day,” Spears III said. “It’s just about having that dog mentality each and every day, each and every snap.”

BSU will have its first opportunity to showcase a defensive resurgence on Thursday, but Week 1 will be anything but a cakewalk. Minnesota State, which led the NSIC and ranked ninth in the country with 40.1 points per game in 2021, comes to town for a season-opening visit.

Yet if all goes according to plan, that’s a major feather in Bemidji State’s cap.

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The Beavers bring down Southwest Minnesota State quarterback Andrew Haidet (10) in the first half on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“The energy is going to be crazy,” senior defensive end Colbey Wadsworth said. “There’s no better feeling than having a couple straight three-and-outs, that’s for sure. I can’t really describe the sensation of when you can feel the entire defense being on the same page.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Beavers are likely to make some highlights of their own. They have quarterback Brandon Alt, wide receiver Brendan Beaulieu and running back Jalen Frye, all of whom have enjoyed national recognition, behind a strong offensive line. But it’s defense that many teams take the most pride in.

“We have to go out and execute at a higher level,” said Bolte, who was the team’s defensive coordinator from 2005-15. “I think our strength will be in the front seven with the guys returning with experience. Hopefully we can lean on those guys, get some pressure on the (quarterback) and take away their run game.”

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Kickoff with the Mavericks is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, at Chet Anderson Stadium. And while it’s not fair to write off a whole season if things go sour in Week 1, the opening game does have a big say in a trajectory toward the postseason.

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Bemidji State's Colton Herman (8) tackles Minnesota State Moorhead’s Carter Blackwell in the second half on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“It’s just getting out there and executing, keeping everyone accountable for their jobs and making sure everyone’s on the same page on defense,” Wadsworth said. “I think it’ll be a good year for Gang Green Defense, for sure.”

Bemidji State won a lot of games with offense last year, and the dogs on defense want that kind of reputation for themselves once more.

“Everybody’s goal is to be the guy making the play,” Spears III said. “It’s about being one of 11 and doing your job, and the playmaking will come with it.”

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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