Bluejays fielding young squad, but expectations still highWORTHINGTON — Even after all his years coaching the Bluejays head coach Jeff Linder still enjoys getting back to the practice field for the beginning of Minnesota West training camp.
By: Jordan Willi, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Even after all his years coaching the Bluejays head coach Jeff Linder still enjoys getting back to the practice field for the beginning of Minnesota West training camp.
“It always feels good to be on a football field,” Linder said. “New year, new start. We have a lot of good leaders and sophmores who did return. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about the freshmen who are coming in. Whenever we can get going in football it is always a good thing.”
The Bluejays started practice Friday, but Monday was the team’s first day in pads. With the players finally suited up for training camp, Linder is excited to start another new football season this fall.
However, with a small number of returning sophmores, the Bluejays will have to rely on strong play from their incoming freshmen class and strong leadership from the players who have already been through a full season for the Jays.
“We didn’t have a lot of sophomores return this year,” Linder said. “We had a lot of sophmores on the team last year, 20 or so. And, unfortunately, like things work at any school, you lose some returners. That is just the way it works.
“We have a bunch of freshmen; we are a young team this year for sure. But that is okay. We are at 44 right now, but we still have guys coming in.”
One of the biggest challenges Linder feels he will face this year is getting his team to come together and play as a unit.
“The hardest part about a college team, especially a junior college team, is trying to get everybody to mesh,” Linder said. “You have people from all over and they come from all different kinds of lifestyles and from all different parts of the country. One of the biggest challenges is to bring them all to the same page as a team. It’s really exciting as a coach to see that happening.”
With so many athletes coming from different schools and different playing schemes some players need to be broken down and rebuilt by Linder and his coaching staff in order for them, and the team, to have success on the field.
“We have to break them down a little bit from what they do now to what we do here,” Linder said. “Football is a game where everything kind of meshes together, but there are things we do defensively and offensively that they didn’t do at their high school. So we have to break them back down and build them back up to what we want them to be.
“A lot of these guys have been starters since they were sophmores or freshmen in high school. So they have their playbooks from high school in their minds and they don’t want to let go. So we have to break that habit and build them back up to the Bluejay way of doing things.”
Linder had the team running through an assortment of drills Monday night, including special teams, position, passing and team drills on the practice field. Although the players were wearing pads for the first time, Linder said his team wasn’t ready for hitting drills quite yet.
“We might do a little hitting later tonight, but we certaintly aren’t going to be teeing off on one another yet,” Linder said. “We aren’t quite ready for that. We still have the fatigue factor and that is when people tend to get hurt. So we’ll just take it one step at a time. You have to crawl before you can walk and you have to walk before you can run. That is basically what we have been telling them.”
Even though training camp is still in the early stages, Linder likes what he has been seeing so far from his young squad.
“Team speed is good, football intelligence is good and work ethic is very good,” Linder said. “We have to continue to stay at this high level and continue to get better every day, both mentally and physically. We can’t just be getting better physically; we also have to be getting better mentally every day.”
With the regular season starting in less than three weeks, Linders is excited about his teams potential and knows his team has the chance to succeed this season.
“We have a new year, a new record and we are undefeated right now,” Linder said. “We have a lot of young minds and bodies to mold. With the help of my assistants and myself, we’ll get it done.”
The Bluejays open up the season in Itasca against the Vikings Aug. 25 at noon. The team’s first home game is at noon on Sept. 1 against the Fond du Lac Thunder.
Daily Globe reporter Jordan Willi may be reached at 376-7335.