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Spring has sprung for the Lights

Still a young team, MSU-N football looks to take big steps in spring ball

 

March 22, 2019

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Keagan Stroop and the Montana State University-Northern Lights are set to take the practice field Monday for the start of 2019 spring drills. The Lights are into year two with head coach Andrew Rolin, and while Northern will still be a young team this spring and next fall, Rolin expects his squad to make a big jump forward.

After months of cold, warm temperatures finally broke through in Havre over the last couple weeks and that's fitting because the Montana State University-Northern football team will hit the field for the start of spring ball next week.

It will be the second set of spring practices under head coach Andrew Rolin and the Lights head coach is looking forward to seeing some growth.

"We had a really good nine weeks of winter conditioning," Rolin said ahead of Monday's first practice. "We got bigger, stronger and faster, and to see how that transfers to the field will be exciting. We are one year older with a lot of younger players and seeing their growth and their development is what spring football is all about. We have to take a big step this year. We know that and our team knows that."

Following a 1-10 season in 2018, the Lights have some holes to fill, and one of the biggest is going to be at quarterback, where Rolin will need to a find a replacement for Tommy Wilston, who started every game last season for MSU-N.

While Bryce Missey is no longer with the program, Northern does have promising redshirt freshman Brenden Medina and, as of right now, he will enter spring as the No. 1 guy and, according to Rolin, he will get the majority of the first-team reps. The other quarterback that will see snaps this spring for the Lights is Steele Ware, a 5-foot-10 transfer from Dakota College at Bottineau in North Dakota.

"Brenden Medina is stepping into that role for us right now," Rolin said. "He was a redshirt last year, but there is no doubt in my mind he has the most room to grow. He has a really high ceiling and I think he has the potential to be a really good quarterback, so this spring is going to be huge for him. He is going to get most of the reps."

If Medina is indeed the starting quarterback in the fall, one thing that should help him is having Jett Robertson returning in the backfield, along with Samuel Brayboy and Andrez Trahan-Proctor. Robertson was the leading rusher with 686 yards and four touchdowns, however, Brayboy also had a solid season and averaged 5.2 yards on 45 rushing attempts.

Whoever the quarterback ends up being will also benefit from the return of the top four pass catchers from last season. Bryce Bumgardner will be back after a stellar campaign that saw him catch 65 passes for 871 yards and three touchdowns for an average of just under 80 yards a game. Marvin Williams, who caught 32 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns, is also returning, along with Keagan Stroop, who had 28 receptions for 308 yards and a touchdown. Robertson was third on the team in receptions with 30.

"Bryce was tied for second in the conference in receptions," Rolin said. "He's a guy, in my opinion, that is set up for a big year. This will be his last year, so this spring will be important for him and he has really stepped up as a leader in that room. Keagan also stepped up as a young kid and played really well and we are excited to see the jump some of those guys can make."

The offensive line will also need to replace multiple starters but will be anchored by Darius Alexander-Jones. On top of that, Rolin said he was excited to see a number of guys take the next step along the defensive line, such as Justin Pfeifer, B.J. Hatcher, Trendae Umi-Tuato'o and Jay Vance.

"For most of the year, we played four freshmen on the defensive front," Rolin said. "Up front, more than probably any other position on our team, they have a lot of room to grow but they also have a high ceiling and I am really excited to see what they can do."

The linebacking core and the secondary also feature a bevy of returning players. At linebacker, guys like Jaren Maki, Jake Norby and Peter Callahan, as well as some others, will return to compete for playing time, while the same thing will happen in the secondary. Ostin Welch, a rising sophomore from Malta, is one of the key returning players along with Wylie Novak. Damien Nelson from CMR will miss the spring due to injury, but should factor into the position this fall.

Despite some players having experience from last season, Rolin said that after the team won one game and none in the Frontier Conference, no job is safe.

"The way I look at it, with our record, nobody is guaranteed anything," Rolin said. "Every job is up for grabs. We are going to be young defensively and so we are going to need some guys to step up. That's what this spring is all about, those young guys taking the next step in their development."

The Lights will get things underway next week and Northern will practice Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The team will be out on the field shortly after 3 p.m. and practice will begin each day around 3:30 p.m. Spring football will last four weeks for Northern and will conclude with the spring game April 20.

"From a cultural standpoint, it has been a complete 180 in terms of the culture I want on the team," Rolin said, "so I am excited about that. Everyone has bought into our standards and how we do things. We are looking for continuous improvement day in and day out and the score will take care of itself. That's our mantra."

 

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