Lights progressing towards 2010 season
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Summer is right around the corner. And after that, the Montana State University-Northern football team will begin a brand new season. The Lights are looking to put a difficult, injury plagued two-win 2009 behind them, and as they wrapped up 2010 spring drills, they are well on their way to doing just that. Northern had a strong final scrimmage back on April 18, and when it was all said and done, MSU-N head coach mark Samson was more than pleased with what his 65 players accomplished over the month-long camp. "We got a lot done, we got a lot in this spring," Samson said. "So for the most part, I was really pleased with how it all went. "The last scrimmage went really well," he added. "The one's were going against the two's and three's in that scrimmage, but it was still very competitive. It wasn't like the scrimmage was one-sided all day. And that shows we're building some depth, and I think overall, we're just a lot more talented this season than we were last year." The most glaring part of spring ball for the Lights was the quarterback battle between freshmen Derek Lear and Matt Reyant. Lear redshirted in 2009, while Reyant was called into duty and started several games for Northern in relief of then senior Jeff Van Nest. The pair went into spring with the starting position for 2010 on the line, and after a spirited battle, Lear, a former threetime Class B All State quarterback at Fairfield, emerged with the No. 1 spot. "They both had a really good spring," Samson said. "They got an equal number of reps every day and in each scrimmage so it was a true competition for the job. They both competed really hard and they both played really well at times. I think they really pushed each other and the competition was good for both of them, so as coaches we were really pleased to see that. That's the kind of kids and football players they both are. They both are really competitive and they work hard and strive to get better. "As of now, Derek will be the starter," he added. "He just seems to have a little bit better command of the offense and the team is really starting to have a lot of confidence in him. They both do really well in this offense, Matt does a good job of understanding it as well. But through spring ball, Derek just had an outstanding camp and pulled ahead a little." But with some experience under his belt, and being one of a host of quality athletes on the offensive side of the ball for the Lights, Samson doesn't envision Reyant holding a clip board on the sidelines all that much. "Matt will be the backup but we have to develop ways to have him on the field," he added. "He just brings too much to the table, he's just too good of an athlete not to have him out there at times. We're going to figure out ways to have him on the field, because they both are tremendous athletes and very good football players, and they both can help us win football games." Another change through spring was not just the personnel, but the schemes for the MSU-N defense. Northern is changing some schemes to what it does defensively, especially in its alignments up front and at linebacker. But while implementing those changes has gone very well thus far, Samson said the bigger difference is just who is back on the field for the Lights. Northern got back three All-American type defenders this spring in Stetson Koffman, Will Andrews and Jared Weigel. Koffman missed all but one game last year with a knee injury, while Andrews missed the entire season because of a nagging foot injury, and Weigel didn't play football in 2009. "The biggest thing is just getting those three guys back," Samson said. "It is just a huge difference in the talent of our defense, and you could really see it this spring. I mean, with all the injuries we had last year, sometimes, guys were looking around at each other wondering if we would even have enough guys to have a defense. So with all of the guys who made some big strides last year, and with those three guys back, it's just completely different now. We're just so much more balanced defensively, so much more talented and experienced and you could definitely see those differences this spring. "We are changing some things scheme-wise too," he added. "And I thought we made some good progress there. But the biggest thing is just the personnel, we're just a completely different team defensively now and it's something we're very happy about." Samson said there were plenty of other bright spots on defense this spring. He said guys like Anthony Tate, Cole Brevig, Tanner Varner and Jeff Handley all stepped up and had a great camp, as did veterans like Landry See, Seth Wildung and others. He said the secondary is still progressing and with Northern's ultra-talented front seven, it must keep improving. And he believes it will even though star defensive back Casey Varner had to miss part of spring with an injury. "We're still working on the secondary," Samson said. "It's coming along though. We've got to get better, but even there I think we have some depth and talent there. We're just younger back there. The big thing is, Wade Kelly had a great spring for us. He started at safety some last year for us, and he did a good job, but now he's really learning the position and he's going to be even that much better this fall. I think we have had a lot of guys step and do some really good things back there this spring. We have a ways to go, but I'm pleased with the progress we're making. I like the guys and the potential we have back there." And while Samson couldn't be happier with the talent he sees on both sides of the ball this spring, he also said the Lights will get even better because several new recruits will join the Lights next fall and are expected to contribute right away. "That's the big thing," Samson said. "Not only are we finding out we are a pretty talented team right now, but I think the depth and how far down the roster that talent goes will be pretty obvious next season. We had a lot of young guys step up and do some really good things for us, and we've got some kids who will come in next fall and they are pretty good too. So that's the biggest difference for us right now. "I just think things are really good right now," he added. "We accomplished a lot this spring. The offense looked sharp, the defense had a great spring and we managed to get some good things done in the kicking game. I think, coming out of spring, it's the best it's been here since the spring of 06'. So I'm really proud of the kids, the way they are approaching this new season, how hard they are working at it, and for how good their attitude is. We're just really in a good place right now."