Northerns 2002 Lights have that feeling of urgency
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You can't hear it or see it when you're standing on the Montana State Northern football practice field. Only the sounds of collisions, chatter and whistles can be heard in the sea of maroon and gold. But it's there.
You feel it. You feel it as easily as the 7 billion mosquitos that are attacking any piece of your exposed skin. Standing there watching the Lights prepare for the upcoming season, you feel a sense of urgency from both the players and the coaches.
There is an itch at practice far worse than any mosquito bite could cause. That itch is the first winning season for the Lights since resurrecting the football program in 1998. And this team is scratching.
"There is definitely a sense of urgency this year," said Lights head coach Walt Currie. "We even felt it last season, this year is what they were pointing toward."
It seems like only a short time ago that MSU-Northern was just a program trying to gain in a foothold in the already tough Frontier Conferece. However, that was four years ago. It was during that first year when head coach Walt Currie and his staff pointed toward the 2002 season as their year. Because this year would be when that first group of recruits would be seniors.
During that four year span, MSU-Northern has seen its fair share of successes sprinkled in with plenty of disappointments. There was the first win against Minot State, the first conference win against UM-Western and last years season high three wins.
There was also the tough losses in the early years when players and coaches were still feeling their way. There was countless close games that the Lights could have won only to see them slip away at the end.
But through the peaks and valleys, the group of 18 seniors on this year's team was there. They weathered the storms, took the critcism and ignored the insults. Because in the backs of their minds, they knew that this year was coming, when they would all be seniors and have four years of Frontier Conference football experience under their belt.
Now with the season upon them, the sense of urgency of this being their last season can be felt like a 200 pound mosquito on their back.
The optimism and expectations are there. Last season's 3-8 record could have been easily 7-4. They return 17 of 22 starters off a squad last year that was said to be the hardest hitting, most physical team in the conference. The league coaches and media both picked the Lights to finish third in the conference. And if you took a straw poll of coaches in the conference, the Lights defense would rank among the most feared.
It is a compliment that is well-deserved and well-earned. The Lights defense, anchored by senior All-American defensive end Kino Detrick, was nastier than a Montana thunderstorm.
But it isn't just the defense that will determine the Lights success. The offensive unit behind a massive offensive line improved every game under the new Wing-T system installed last season. Quarterback Brandon Kerkes is a completely different player than he was a year and a half ago when he was just trying to learn the posistion and survive.
The players certainly aren't intimidated by any team they play and after two weeks of beating each other, they are ready for the season start so they can inflict some punishment on opposing teams.
The urgency brings excitement to the players especially to the 18 seniors who know that there will be no more, "wait til next year" for them. It isn't desperation but an expectation.
"It's our time," Detrick said. "There's no doubt about that. We want to win for everybody."
No matter what expectations the university, the boosters or the town may have for the 2002 season, nobody holds higher expectations than the Lights themselves.
"It's time for us to do it," Currie said. "We expect to win, the kids expect to win, now it's time to get it done."
Sports Editor Ryan Divish can be reached at 265-6795 or at [email protected]