WORTHINGTON -- While the Minnesota West football team has a roster of more than 60 players, there are only 15 returners from last year.
“We’re probably down a little bit in that area,” West head coach Jeff Linder said.
However, players return in key spots, including quarterback Andrew Ortiz, who had his 2018 season cut short due to injury.
“He’s a great athlete and a perfect quarterback for our system,” Linder said. “He leads just by standing in the huddle. You can see it in the confidence he projects into the offensive unit. They have a lot of respect for him.”
Ortiz will have some weapons as Michael Dendy, Gary Smith and Terryon Bumpus return at wide receiver. Tyler Linder is back at tight end.
“We do (have weapons) and we’re able to get down the field and run the ball, too,” Coach Linder said. “We have some big horses up front and we’re kind of excited about that. Offensively, we’re probably the most mature as far as returning people. We’re a little bit younger on the defensive side of the ball, we have a lot of learning to do. But sometimes that’s not so bad.”
Not only does West return skill players, but also some key offensive linemen in Joshua King and Dylan Svoboda.
“The linemen are going to have to play a critical role and our sophomores up front are going to have to be team leaders to make sure these guys are squared away up front,” the head coach said. “That unit has to play together at all times and know each other and figure each other out real quick.”
The Bluejays finished 3-5 a season ago, but struggled to stop opposing offenses. Last year, MW allowed an average of 30 points and 392 yards per game.
“We really need to fix that and change that,” the coach said. “We can’t score points and give up points and score points and give up points. We need to continue to be able to score points and not give them up so easily. Last year they came rather easily from time to time.”
Defensively, Jawuan Thomas, Xavier James and Brandon Vashti return on the line. La’Darous Laster, Isaac Rue and Henry White are back at linebacker, which will be a strength on that side of the ball.
“We’re going to be good there,” Jeff Linder said of his linebackers. “We have good leadership there. We have some good leadership on the defensive line. In the secondary, I can’t say enough about Cornell Washington, he’s good. So he can lead there a little bit, too.”
The Bluejays open their season today at Itasca.
“We need to play,” the coach said. “I’ve said this every year, but we need to play to figure our stuff out. With this short of time preparing for our first game, we’ve had offers to play scrimmages, but we’ve had no time to do that. We’ve had some live sessions, which you’re able to do with numbers. The other thing you’re able to do with numbers is push people.”
Despite a tough schedule and a young squad, Coach Linder is optimistic in his 26th year at the helm.
“We have to stay healthy and we have to keep from turning the ball over,” he said. “If the guys can continue to play together and we can control how many turnovers and penalties we have and be who we are and not worry about everything else, I think we’ll be OK.”