BEMIDJI -- As rain descended onto a soggy Chet Anderson Stadium on Monday, a chorus of cadences, whistles and cheers sang out the start of a new season for the Bemidji State football team.
Rain or shine, the Beavers were thrilled to be back in action for the first practice of the fall.
“A homecoming victory is what it feels like,” BSU head coach Brent Bolte said of the heavy rain. “… Obviously the elements weren’t great, but we have to play in the conditions, anyway. It’s fun to see the guys back and running around. It’s fun to get up there and get back at it.”
Bemidji State is looking to build on a 7-4 season from a year ago, and the Beavers believe they’ve got the weapons on both sides of the ball to do it.
“We’ve got a lot of talented freshmen that are here, and the vets have been working so hard,” Bolte said. “It’s fun to be able to blend those guys all back together.”
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Brandon Alt said he’s at 100 percent following a season-ending ACL injury in week two last year. Before going down, he threw for 348 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions on 17-for-32 passing. He also rushed for 71 yards on 11 attempts.
“It’s almost motivating,” Alt said of his injury. “It hurt last year, not being able to play the game that I love. It just made me want to get stronger, faster, learn more about the game and better myself on and off the field.”
A medical redshirt preserved Alt’s eligibility, so he will retain his freshman status this season despite it being his third as a Beaver.
“It’s the absolute best with this team getting back together,” Alt said of the first day of practice. “Everyone’s back. Now that we get to come outside and play some ball -- we didn’t get the best weather, but we made the most of it -- we had a blast out there.”
On defense, junior linebacker Gabe Ames will lead the infamous Gang Green defense that finished fourth in scoring defense within the conference last season. Ames was named the North Division’s Defensive Preseason Player of the Year, as well, which is something he said he hopes to earn on the field this fall.
“I credit it to my team, making my job easy and making it easy for me to just fly around out there,” he said. “I’m not going to change anything. Just go out there and play, do what got me in this position.”
Nevertheless, there are holes to fill, too. Cornerback cornerstones Gunner Olszewski and John Vogeler have graduated, as has the team’s highest producing wide receiver in Landon Jones. Further, wideout Mannie Kugmeh, a would-be junior who was second among the receiving corps last year, is no longer with the team, according to Bolte. Top running back Andrew Lackowski has also graduated.
Even still, the season-long goal isn’t changing for Bolte.
“I want to win a conference championship and go to the postseason. That’s the goal every single year,” he said. “… We’ve been really close the last three years. But close isn’t good enough. I want to win, and I’m not getting any younger. I want to do it now, I don’t want to wait.”