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Super sophs: Second-year West receivers Cowell, Stamer and Lais add confidence to 2022 Bluejays

Bailey Cowell of Luverne, Ian Stamer of Adrian and Tommy Lais of Worthington return to Minnesota West after strong freshman seasons

Minnesota West sophomore receivers (from left), Bailey Cowell, Tommy Lais and Ian Stamer are back after posting solid years as freshmen.
Minnesota West sophomore receivers (from left), Bailey Cowell, Tommy Lais and Ian Stamer are back after posting solid years as freshmen.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West football players Bailey Cowell, Ian Stamer and Tommy Lais were treated to a baptism under fire last year as college freshmen. They passed the test and feel they are better for it.

“I just had a target on my back. All the sophomores were jabbering at me a lot. They were always coming at me all the time,” said Cowell about his practice experiences.

“It was a totally different environment and energy from small-town high school,” said Stamer.

Minnesota West head coach Jeff Linder watches as offense and defense clash as the team runs a first and goal practice live action drill Wednesday afternoon.
Minnesota West head coach Jeff Linder watches as offensive and defensive players clash during goal-line drills.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Now, as sophomores, the three offensive stars are ready to be leaders on a Bluejays team that expects big things in 2022. Cowell, a 6-0, 175-pound wide receiver from Luverne, caught 48 passes for 441 yards and three touchdowns against conference competition last fall. Stamer, a 6-2, 165-pound wide receiver from Adrian, caught 33 for 479 yards and five touchdowns against league foes. And Lais, a 6-4, 205-pound tight end from Worthington, caught 36 for 418 yards and three TDs in conference play.

If the three talented southwest Minnesota-bred receivers thought college football was going to be easy for them, they quickly learned the opposite last season. The Jays defensive players knew that they’d look more impressive, themselves, if they could out-maneuver their first-year teammates, and they were determined to force them to grow up fast.

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All three recipients of the “tough love” were then, and now, thankful for their education.

“It was nice,” said Lais. “Because they were probably one of the best defenses in the conference. It made it easier on Saturdays.”

One might expect that Stamer would’ve had the toughest time of it, if only for the fact that he played his high school football at the smallest school of the three. But he said he knew what to expect in Worthington -- a lot of energy in practice, and better players to go against.

The football culture in a small town, he said, is different than in college where everyone is motivated to give their best. In high school football, the former Dragon said, not everybody has the same desire.

For the tight end Lais, he had to prove his route-running and ball-catching abilities while also blocking a better class of defenders than those he went against in high school. He was coached by his father, Geno, with the Trojans and believed college football presented one more personal challenge.

“I felt I needed to prove myself. He (dad) kind of drew up plays for me. But here, I had to prove it on my own,” Lais said. “In high school I wasn’t much of a blocker. I was just kind of spread out. But here there are bigger guys and I had to work harder.”

Their Minnesota West head coach, Jeff Linder, is tickled pink that he’s got all three of his exceptional receivers back again for another go at it. From the start of preseason practice, he’s noticed that Cowell, Stamer and Lais are more relaxed.

“They know what it takes and they know they can do it,” said Linder, who appreciates Cowell for his great all-around athleticism and his outstanding route running, Stamer for his height and his ability to make catches against smaller defensive backs, and Lais (an All-American in 2021) for his deceptive speed and his ability to go inside on passing plays.

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Linder added, “They were go-to guys (last season), all three of them. You could always count on them to get the job done and know their assignments. And all three of them have great hands. They made incredible catches last year and we’re hoping to see more of that. We think they’re going to have an even bigger impact this year because they’re more seasoned. They’re veterans.”

Sophomores leadIt can’t hurt that the Bluejays return both of their part-time starting quarterbacks from a year ago (Brock Starley and Willie Holm), plus the team’s top running back (Rashard Anderson). And (talk about a wealth of riches!) the Jays also have an outstanding transfer from Rochester Community College in the receiving ranks, Stephen Lewis, who caught aerials for more than 700 yards last season.

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The Worthington Trojans boys basketball team played exceptional defense against Canistota, surrendering a mere 11 points in the first half.

Minnesota West posted a 4-6 record last year but defeated highly regarded arch-rival Rochester twice. Players are aiming high this fall. Very high.

“This year we can comfortably say we want a ring,” said Cowell, which means a state championship.

It’s a sophomore-heavy team.

“When you only lose five sophomores total, you got a lot of sophomores staying here, and we want to do a whole lot better. We want to win a state championship,” said Stamer.

But will there be enough footballs to spread around to Cowell, Stamer, Lais and company?

“Personally, I don’t really look at stats. I just look for a good result,” said Cowell, who hopes to make his next football stop at a “strong” four-year college. And besides, if defenses decide to pay more attention to Stamer, that’ll just open up more opportunities for someone else.

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It’s all about physics, really. You can’t double-team every outstanding receiver that the Bluejays possess.

Are Cowell, Stamer and Lais glad they chose Minnesota West after high school? You bet.

Stamer says he loves to see the personalities meshing together at the school and on the football field. Just the other day, he said, his mother told him it was the best decision of his life to come to the two-year school in Worthington. Ian, himself, knew he needed to expand his small-town horizons and get to know the real world.

“I couldn’t be more grateful that I came here,” he said.

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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