BEMIDJI -- A familiar face will greet the Bemidji State football team from the visitors’ sideline at Chet Anderson Stadium for Thursday’s home opener against the University of Mary.

U-Mary head coach Craig Bagnell coached four seasons at BSU, and served as offensive coordinator for the last three.

When Bagnell left Bemidji to take the head coaching job at his alma mater following the 2017 season, he became the youngest head coach in NCAA football at the age of 27.

Now in his second season, Bagnell will return to his former school for the first time since taking the reins of the Marauders.

“Everybody makes a big deal of it being with Craig,” BSU head coach Brent Bolte said. “Obviously, for us it’s just whoever it is on the schedule, we’ve got to be 1-0 each week. It makes for a little bit of added fun when you’re bringing a coach back that you’re good friends with.”

Coming off a 1-10 campaign in 2018, U-Mary dropped its season opener 35-12 to St. Cloud State last week. But Bolte said he’s seen improvement from the team and its young coach.

“They’re better than they were a year ago,” Bolte said. “They’re playing hard. They had a chance to be in the game in the second half against St. Cloud.”

As for his own team, Bolte saw some good and some bad in assessing the Beavers’ 33-7 win at Northern State.

“We were just a couple blocks away, a couple missed sacks here or there away from really having a complete game,” Bolte said. “But, when you’re up 33-0 in the fourth quarter, you feel pretty good about the kids’ ability to go out there and handle it week one and being on the road.”

The secondary came out with a strong performance by forcing four turnovers, including three interceptions by three different players.

“I think the defense came out flying,” said defensive back Michael Junker. The senior returned his 10th career interception 49 yards to set the offense up deep inside the red zone. “We had two turnovers in the first quarter, which definitely set the tone for the defense and the offense.”

The offense benefited from those takeaways, and also created its own opportunities, including marching 80 yards on the first drive of the game to establish the tone early.

Redshirt junior Malik Williams caught a team-leading eight receptions for 64 yards with two going for touchdowns in his first game as a Beaver. Williams took a medical redshirt last season after transferring from Northland Community and Technical College.

“I felt like it was a good game, but I could have played better than I did,” Williams said. “I think the whole offense could have played better as a whole. But it was still good to be out there for the first game.”

The Beavers will play in front of their home fans for the first time Thursday in a 7 p.m. game that will be televised by Midco Sports Network.

Olszewski’s NFL debut ‘surreal’ for Beavers

Gunner Olszewski has made New England Patriots fans out of his former coaches and teammates.

Once an All-American cornerback at BSU, Olszewski is now a wide receiver and the lead punt returner for the Patriots. He returned two punts for 35 yards, including a 20-yarder that is the NFL’s longest through week one, during his debut on Sunday Night Football this past weekend.

“Just last year we were rooming on game days on away trips,” Junker said. “It’s well deserved. He’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve seen, on the field and off. It was just exciting to see him out there making plays. It’s just one of those things that you’re going to cherish forever.”

“It felt like yesterday we were just at the house cleaning up after him,” joked Williams, who lived with Olszewski last season. “It’s crazy. He’s now in the NFL making plays and it’s great to see that.”

Bolte echoed his players’ reaction to seeing a Beaver playing on Sundays.

“It was kind of surreal,” Bolte said. “I told everybody that it’s hard to wrap it into perspective when you see him running down on a kickoff and punt returns, which we saw for years here and during practice. So good for him. All that hard work and perseverance throughout his career pays off, and he’s getting paid to play a game. That’s pretty awesome for him.”