Optimism reigns for Minnesota West Bluejays football
A talented and experienced bunch of Minnesota West Bluejays determined to do a lot of winning in 2022
WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota West football Bluejays have big goals for 2022.
Last year the team posted a 4-6 record, but that record was deceptive. After losing three of their first four games, the Jays redoubled their efforts and showed themselves that they were a good team after all. When left for dead, they defeated nationally-ranked Rochester in their fifth regular season game. After two more losses, they went to the well one more time and against all odds made a monumental comeback to beat Rochester a second time. They lost in the playoffs 16-12 at Itasca but thought they should have won it.
They are determined this year.
And not only that, the Bluejays are heavily invested in their returning sophomores. On a 54-man squad, 26 of their players are in their second year.
“The sophomores kind of have a mission, and their mission is to get back to where they were last year. They want to get back there to state and try to win it. And that’s rubbing off on the freshmen, and they want them to know that and come along for the ride,” said veteran head coach Jeff Linder.
Minnesota West opens its regular season Thursday on the road against Northwestern JV, and their next two games are also on the road -- at North Dakota State School of Science on Sept 3 and at Mesabi Range on Sept 10. If the Bluejays can keep their heads above water at that point, they’ll have three of their last four regular season games at home (the Rochester game is at Rochester on Sept. 24).
“Talk is cheap. You gotta be able to back it up, and you can only do that with hard work,” said Linder.
He’s impressed, however, in seeing his sophomore class helping the freshman know how, not just to want to win, but to actually know how to win.
There are many important pieces returning to the Minnesota West offense. Both of last year’s quarterbacks (both who started some games) are back: Brock Starley (from Utah) and Willie Holm (Zumbrota). Both have had impressive games throwing the football.
The receiver group is both deep and talented. Former area high school players Ian Stamer (wide receiver, Adrian), Bailey Cowell (wide receiver, Luverne) and Tommy Lais (tight end, Worthington) return after seasons where all three caught at least 33 passes for over 400 yards in conference play. Linder says he’s got a couple more fine receivers coming in this fall, including Rochester transfer Stephen Lewis, who gained more than 700 yards receiving last year.
Starting running back Rashard Anderson (North Carolina) returns for a second season with the Jays. There are three returning offensive linemen: Devaughn Demus (guard, Chicago), Scot Edwards (guard, Adrian) and Billy Trees (center, Prior Lake). The defensive line includes returnees Izaya Atkinson (end, Minneapolis), Isaiah Trago (end, New York), Ricky Jackson (tackle, Michigan) and Ethan Nenlich (tackle, Hartford, S.D.),
Returning defensive backs are Larry Williams (cornerback, Florida), Keuntay Felton (safety, Florida), Duvaughn Williams (safety, Illinois) and Tate Gaul (safety, Worthington). Linebacking will be done with a new crew in 2022, but dependable kicker Mike Peralta (Wisconsin) is back in camp.
Linder would like to have more depth, but despite that he’s got several players who are versatile.
“We’ve got some freshman offensive linemen who can do the job. So Scot (Edwards) can be moved to defense (he played some defensive tackle last year),” said the coach. “We’ve got some interchangeable parts with our offensive and defensive linemen, which I think is key. The line is very important. And if we have a defensive tackle from last year go down, we have a starter on offense from last year who can go in and play. Trago can go offensive line because he’s an athlete. Because he’s so strong, he’s so physically fit. I think he can be a Division II (player) for sure.”
West will run a spread offense designed to use the pass to set up the run. The defense, under coordinator Ben DeVries, will be quick and aggressive and seek to create turnovers.
“I think we’re going to be able to put a lot of pressure on with our defense,” Linder said, “and we’re going to try to get the ball back to be able to score.”