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Minnesota West football: Linder to break in new players, and new coaches, too

WORTHINGTON -- Coaching a two-year college football team is hard enough these days without having to replace your offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator all in the same year. Veteran Minnesota West mentor Jeff Linder is confident he's go...

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WORTHINGTON -- Coaching a two-year college football team is hard enough these days without having to replace your offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator all in the same year. Veteran Minnesota West mentor Jeff Linder is confident he’s got two excellent replacements lined up for departing coaches Gene Lais and Scott Barber, but what’s missing now is a familiarity that comes from decades of laboring side-by-side.

“It’s kind of like having teammates. You just know each other so well. You just react to each other so well,” said Linder on Tuesday.

Lais worked 25 years for the Bluejays as an assistant coach and was entrusted with the offense, but next fall he’ll be leading the Worthington High School Trojans. Barber coached at the college for 20 years and was well-known as an intense and demanding defensive coordinator, but in the fall he’ll be assisting Lais.

Linder has coached at the college for 26 years. But his association with Lais and Barber go farther back than that. They were teammates together as Bluejays under coach Don Varpness.

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“Not only are they good people and they get kids to play hard for them. But they were Bluejays,” Linder said.

Fortunately for Linder and Bluejays fans, the two new coaches Ben DeVries and Ken McCuen are experienced and well-known in the area. DeVries is a former Minnesota West player who also coached at the college. He took some time off, assisted with the Southwest Huskerz amateur team based in Worthington, and now returns to West to coach the offensive line. McCuen coached the Huskerz but left after last season to coach an amateur team in Mankato. Funding for the team fell through, however, and he’s returning to Worthington to coach the Jays’ backs and linebackers.

Returning to the Minnesota West fold this year will be assistants Brad Holinka (quarterbacks and special teams), Bernie Strouth (defensive line), volunteer Steve Bassett (wide receivers) and trainer Joel Krekelberg.

Linder and his staff had their first sit-down meeting for the 2016 season this week, where they began the usual off-season tasks of assigning duties and reviewing playbooks. The first official team meeting is Aug. 4, and equipment checkouts are to take place on Aug. 5.

Aside from turnover in the coaching ranks, there is turnover among the players. And that means Linder and his assistants won’t really know what to expect on the field until practices are well under way.

As usual, non-field issues are always at issue in Worthington when it comes to fielding a new team.

“At the junior college level, there’s such a high rate of turnover regardless,” Linder said. “I’m hoping our numbers will be where they need to be. But housing will be a serious issue. The city seems to have a hard-enough time housing the people who work here, let alone the students who come in.”

Coaching at a two-year school isn’t like it is coaching at the four-year level.

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“You start getting (players) where they need to be, and then they move on and you’re going to have to start over. At our level, you have to be very good teachers … And you’ve gotta get ‘em ready quick.”

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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