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FOOTBALL: Bemidji State dozen sticking it out for one more run after pandemic fallout

As fall camp opens, Bemidji State has 12 seniors returning for a redo of their final year in green and white.

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The Beavers get set for a play in practice on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Obvious as it may be, Malik Williams sure missed football.

“A lot, man,” Williams said. “Even though we had practice still, it wasn’t the same satisfaction of actually going out and playing on Saturdays.”

Williams missed it so much, in fact, that he wasn’t about to go out on a canceled season. Just like 11 of his teammates on the Bemidji State football team, Williams is coming back for a second senior year.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who could have graduated and went on into the real world,” the wide receiver said. “But we had a lot of seniors who missed last season and decided to stick it out. I know we’ve got a good team that wants to win, and will win.”

The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference canceled fall sports in 2020 amid virus concerns, but the NCAA didn’t count that against athletes’ eligibility. So, a dozen Beavers who would have been done after 2020 are suited up in green again this fall.

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Bemidji State senior Malik Williams makes a catch in practice on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“Everybody that came back knows what’s at stake,” said senior linebacker Gabe Ames, the NSIC North Division’s preseason defensive player of the year. “They know the depth and the talent that we have on this team. They knew they didn’t want to go out not having a season and not being able to play. We wanted to be able to go out on a high note, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Eleven players are back for round two as a senior, having played their junior seasons for Bemidji State in 2019: Jashon Roundtree, Jaylen Jenkins, Joe Odom III, Connor Cusick, Ryan Fuller, Joshua Wleh, James Huwe, Mason Hoffer, James Moe, Ames and Williams. Additionally, Hameed Oyedele transferred to BSU in 2020 and is back for seconds as a senior this fall.

“It’s commitment, No. 1, to each other,” head coach Brent Bolte said of the seniors returning. “We had a few guys step away, but the vast majority stayed. Again,the dedication to that senior group collectively, that cohesion, is why they’re here. And they obviously bleed green, too.”

Fall camp opened up Monday, Aug. 9, at Chet Anderson Stadium, and the field has been a hotbed of excitement ever since.

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“I think they’re just jubilant to be back out here,” Bolte said. “How could you not be excited after having the COVID year, where we kind of got robbed of a season? The excitement turns into the realization that we’re getting back to some normalcy with college football.”

Practicing alongside the returning seniors are a few other notable players, as well.

Projected starting quarterback Brandon Alt is taking first-team reps under center after season-ending injuries in 2018 and 2019. Incredibly, Alt is just a sophomore despite entering his fifth year with the program. He redshirted in 2017, took a medical redshirt in 2018, played one game in 2019 to use up his freshman status, and missed 2020 because of the pandemic.

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Bemidji State quarterback Brandon Alt makes a pass in practice on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Leading rusher Jalen Frye returns to the fold as a junior after averaging 148 rushing yards a game in 2019. Receiver Brendan Beaulieu is also back as a junior after leading all receivers with 78 yards per game in 2019.

On the defensive side of the ball, junior linebacker Yaquub Mohamed lines up as the team’s leading tackler from 2019, while junior defensive end Colbey Wadsworth, Wleh and Ames all return after roping in multiple sacks two years ago.

“We’re starting to be a player-led defense,” Ames said. “That’s not only one person. That’s everybody on the team. I think my job as a leader is to help guys continue to grow and continue to help everybody become leaders. … Just make sure we stay a player-led defense.”

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The season begins at 6 p.m. on Sept. 2 at Sioux Falls, while the team’s first home game is set for 2 p.m. on Sept. 11 against Wayne State. And there will be a whole lot of Beavers ready to get rolling for the first time in nearly two full years.

“It says a lot about them,” Williams said of the returning seniors. “It just tells me that we have an attitude… to win. We’ve just got to put the pieces together and make it happen.”

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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