Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Minnesota Gopher Football: What We Know

As college football kicks off this week, it's time to look at the teams local people (allegedly) care about. One of those is Minnesota. The Gophers open up Thursday at home against UNLV. You might remember last year, when Minnesota needed three overtimes to topple the tenacious (and awful) Runnin' Rebels.

Before you settle in for kickoff of the season, here is what you need to know about the Gophers.

Philip Nelson will be better.

Not many top-flight college football teams start true freshmen at quarterback and succeed. Nelson was not really one of them, but the seven games he got to start provided him with valuable experience heading into a big sophomore season. No more does Nelson have to stand in the shadow of athletic enigma MarQueis Gray, who has moved on. Max Shortell, who played as a freshman in 2011, has transferred.

This is Nelson's team. Look for him to take advantage of the confidence his coaches have shown in him.

I'm not proclaiming Nelson a Heisman candidate or anything, but he will improve as he learns more about the level he's playing at.

He should have strong protection from right tackle Josh Campion and left tackle Marek Lenkiewicz (or Ed Olson, I guess), so the hope is he won't be harassed into bad decisions and take a lot of unnecessary hits.

Nelson has a good arm, is a good athlete, and has a better grasp of the offense than ever before. With Mitch Leidner available to play but not pushing Nelson, this is his time.

I don't know who Nelson will throw to.

Part of Nelson's development will be the Gophers coming up with some quality options on the outside. There have been times recently where Gray, a freaking quarterback, looked like the team's best option at receiver. Guys like Derrick Engel and Isaac Fruechte are the best experienced receivers, and they combined for 34 catches last year.

Minnesota figures to be quite young in the passing game. Engel and Fruechte are both juniors, as are receivers KJ Maye and Logan Hutton. Tight ends Drew Goodger and Logan Plsek are both sophomores.

Someone has to step up and give Nelson a target, or all of this is naught.

Donnell Kirkwood can play.

He didn't crack 1,000 yards, but Kirkwood became the most valuable player on Minnesota's offense last year. The Gophers averaged a decent 150-plus yards per game, but didn't do well in short-yardage or goal line situations.

Kirkwood isn't a big dude, and neither is promising freshman Berkley Edwards (he's out at least the first game with an ankle injury). But they have speed to burn, and given how Jerry Kill limited Kirkwood's snaps in the spring sessions and fall camp, he should be plenty fresh and ready to be Minnesota's bell-cow back this fall.

Minnesota has to improve in short yardage, but at least part of that comes from blocking, and the offensive line is big, experienced, and more talented than last year.

Ra'Shede Hageman is legit.

There are no guarantees in football, especially for linemen, where one guy falling onto your leg can alter your career.

But Hageman is developing into a guy who will get his name called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the 2014 draft. In other words, he is a budding first-round pick.

Hageman had six sacks last season, and appeared to finally start tapping into his huge potential. The 311-pounder provides the Gophers with a lot of push in the middle. He's a great athlete for his size, and he has a better understanding of how to beat blockers.

I look at Hageman and see a guy who could potentially play as an under tackle in a 4-3 defense, or as a defensive end in a 3-4 look. In Minnesota's 4-3, he's a great fit as a tackle. If he continues to fulfill his potential, Hageman will win some awards this season, and he will get paid next spring.

The schedule is entirely too difficult for the Gophers to be a contender.

The team has too many holes. I like Nelson, but don't know that he's a star yet. The wide receiving corps is really thin and lacks a true star. Despite Hageman's presence, there isn't enough play-making ability in the front seven for the defense to take a huge step forward.

Oh, and the Gophers will come off a month's worth of non-conference layups to face this Big Ten gauntlet: Michigan (away), Northwestern (away), Nebraska (home), Penn State (home), Wisconsin (home), Michigan State (away).

The talent is there for seven wins, which would be nice, or eight wins, which would be a breakthrough. But 6-6 isn't out of the question, and how would "Gopher Nation" react to that?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

UMD Mock Depth Chart 2013-14

I want to point out that when we performed this exercise last year, I practically nailed the major points of the opening night lineup.

The reason for reminding everyone of this? I probably won't be able to pull off a repeat performance.

This UMD team will very much have a different makeup than last year. A few things -- center depth, scoring balance, consistent defense and goaltending -- never really developed last year. At various times, some or all of these issues came to the forefront, and the result was a near 20-loss season.

To flip that around and blast past 20 wins for the fifth time in six years, UMD needs some guys to step up. The Bulldogs will sport much-improved forward depth, and while there aren't many big names in the defensive corps, it's a group that could be very solid once the right pairings are found.

All three goalies are back from last year. More is expected there, but they'll get more help than they did in 2012-13.

Without any further ado, let me launch into what I think this lineup will look like come October. Same disclaimers apply. I reserve the right to change this a couple, 13, 14, or even 22 times before Lakehead and UMD hit the ice Oct. 7.

Also, I have put this together with minimal espionage work done. In other words, I'm trying not to cheat too much. That comes later.

Austin Farley - Tony Cameranesi - Joe Basaraba
Dom Toninato - Caleb Herbert - Alex Iafallo
Justin Crandall - Cal Decowski - Adam Krause
Austyn Young - Max Tardy - Charlie Sampair
Kyle Osterberg - Sammy Spurrell

Andy Welinski - Willie Corrin
Willie Raskob - Tim Smith
Dan Molenaar - Derik Johnson
Carson Soucy - Luke McManus

Aaron Crandall - Alex Fons - Matt McNeely

I kept the top group together, though I think there's a money chance that doesn't happen. Basaraba's size is a good compliment to Farley and Cameranesi, as he gives them room to maneuver and get creative five-on-five, when room is so often at a premium.

Herbert could have a big season centering whomever he ends up centering. I'll stick the Fargo kids (well, at least they were for juniors) there with Caleb, even though both are left-hand shots. The way these lines are laid out, there are three lefties (the two freshmen and Farley) among the four wings on the top two lines. No reason this couldn't sustain, but keep in mind some guys can't play comfortably on the off-wing. Farley slid to the right side a couple times last year (at least my fuzzy memory indicates that this happened), but he did his damage as Cameranesi's left wing.

Had a really hard time laying out the third and fourth lines. I think Tardy and Sampair are the most potentially interesting guys on this team. Tardy is a senior, and while he hasn't had the career he hoped to have, I thought he showed flashes last year while caught up in a numbers game with some younger guys. Sampair tailed off a bit late, but had flashed plenty of ability around midseason. No question he can skate and could fit well as a penalty killer as he works to realize his offensive potential.

If Tardy is to get caught in the numbers game again, look for Spurrell to get a shot on that fourth line. He has decent size and has shown offensive ability in juniors.

On the defense, I'm not sure about anything. Welinski will play every game he's healthy for, and he'll play a lot. The other seven guys will be battling out of the chute for ice time. Corrin has the best skill set to play alongside Welinski, though he'll have to prove he's ready. I think Raskob plays as long as he shows he is ready to. Indications were he was brought in earlier than initially planned, and that tells me he isn't coming in to burn a year of eligibility by watching games in the press box. Smith is the kind of defenseman who is most effective when the play by play isn't saying his name a whole lot. Don't notice him? He's probably playing well.

I've heard good things about Molenaar and Soucy, but don't know much about either one's game and how it translates to Division I. Johnson and McManus have plenty of experience, and McManus has the advantage of being a guy who can help on the power play.

As far as the goaltending is concerned, I think McNeely gets a shot to prove he's the guy. He has to be more consistent. When starting both ends of a weekend series, McNeely was much worse on Saturday than he was Friday. That can't happen again. Crandall is a good option to play if needed, and Fons is likely itching to get another chance after playing in Bemidji last season.

Krause and Crandall showed a lot of chemistry working on the penalty kill last year, and I would expect they will log minutes there. Look for Cameranesi and Decowski to challenge for time there, and there could be a lot of mixing and matching while the coaches look for good killing forwards.

All in all, the depth is better, and you will probably see a lot of lineup tweaking early to keep everyone playing in games and see what works best.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Former High School Star Predicts End of High School Sports

Annie Adamczak-Glavan is a DECC Athletic Hall of Famer, Class of 2012.

At Moose Lake High School, she's a legend. Adamczak-Glavan helped the Rebels win ten state championships between 1978-82. In her senior year, the three teams she played on -- volleyball, basketball, and soccer -- went a combined 71-0.

Her sport was volleyball, though. She played it at Nebraska, earning All American honors in 1985. She also played it professionally. And now she trains young people in the sport as her day job.

Club 43 is an academy based in Hopkins, focused on training young athletes in volleyball. As Sunday's Duluth News Tribune notes, it's the kind of academy Adamczak-Glavan herself decried as a youngster.
Before her senior basketball season at Moose Lake High School, star athlete Annie Adamczak said a club volleyball team asked her to play for them instead.

“I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I’m not going to give up one night of my high school basketball season to play volleyball,’” she recalled. “You just didn’t do that — you played for your school, you played for your hometown, and you wore those school colors."
With Club 43, Adamczak-Glavan is doing exactly what someone tried to get her to do back in the 1980s.

And she thinks she's in front of a growing trend, one that will lead to the end of high school sports as we know them.
“I honestly think you won’t have high school sports in 20 years — they’ll be done,” said Adamczak-Glavan, who won five state titles, including volleyball, basketball and softball championships as a senior in the 1981-82 school year. “Why? It costs money, (high schools) don’t have the facilities or the training and they can’t offer the expertise that I can offer. I have a plyometric trainer, video equipment, two or three coaches and other players I can bring in to go against them. I can train on Sundays or Wednesdays, at 10 o’clock at night, year-round.

“A high school practices from 3:30-5, and maybe if players are lucky, they will have a coach who played in high school. And it costs money. Why would the high schools continue to do it when they can hand it off to clubs like mine?"
Sunday's story by the extremely hard-working Rick Weegman has touched off a firestorm of reaction from people who work with or follow high school sports.

And this commentary isn't at all critical of the paper or the reporter. I think the story is presented well, and it's a valid discussion to have as the fall sports season launches for high schools all over the place.

But there's a problem: Adamczak-Glavan comes across as misguided at best, and self-serving at worst.

High schools have the kinds of facilities she talks about in the story, and they have highly-trained and highly-motivated coaches who surely aren't coaching to make money. Proctor football assistant coach Nate Johnson commented on the Minnesota State High School League's Facebook page Sunday, addressing this article.
The people who I coach with and against are constantly going through continuing education courses and clinics, not only for their specific sport(s) but also are constantly trying to learn to be better coaches and examples to our athletes. In some cases we are required to do this, in most we do it on our own time and with our own money. Why do we do this? Because we care deeply about our athletes. We want to be the best for them. We want to provide them the best opportunity to excel that we can. Sometimes the teams we coach win, sometimes they lose. In both cases the high school coach is there to teach life lessons. Not to cash a check from the parents.
That last sentence is a bit of a dig at Adamczak-Glavan. Why? Well, according to Club 43's official website, it isn't exactly cheap to send a player to her Hopkins facility. Including a $300 deposit for all ages, fees range from $1,800 or $3,100, depending on how old a player is.

In case you're wondering, the highest participation fee for a high school sports team in Duluth is $500 (hockey at Denfeld and East). No one else pays more than $235. Want to play volleyball at Proctor? It'll cost you $120, and if your family qualifies for free or reduced lunch, it's $95. Hermantown is $130 for all sports except hockey ($180).

I know. This isn't the Twin Cities.

Hopkins, where Club 43 is located, charges a fee of $230 per sport, no matter the sport. And if a child takes part in three or more sports, the fee is halved.

Academies like Adamczak-Glavan's certainly do good work. If they didn't, they wouldn't exist anymore. But the former Moose Lake star has plenty of testimonials on her website, and surely there are plenty of happy customers.

But the prediction of high school sports' demise is misguided, possibly self-serving, and absolutely premature. Until these academies are more affordable for everyone, there's no chance of Adamczak-Glavan's prediction becoming a reality. And even once that happens, it isn't as if high school teams are incapable of cultivating and churning out elite athletes.

For every Jamie Langenbrunner, who left Cloquet High School to play major junior and then ended up having a very good NHL career, there's a guy like Derek Plante, who chose to stay in school, go to college, and also had himself a nice pro career.

High schools produce multi-sport stars, like Matt Niskanen (Virginia/MIB) and Austin Pohlen (Grand Rapids), and they allow numerous kids the chance to play more than one sport while they get their education.

Adamczak-Glavan doesn't seem to think that's the right way anymore, either. She told Weegman her daughter cut herself down from three sports to one -- volleyball -- in the sixth grade. She feels that giving up all but one sport is the way to go now.

I completely disagree with this as well. There's no book on how to treat every kid, but there are plenty of articles to be found on the internet arguing that specialization at a young age is not a good idea.

The biggest reasons for this, I believe, are twofold. For starters, it sets up the risk for burnout. I know plenty of families in this area who spend practically the entire summer trucking kids to hockey tournaments. I've overheard parents talking about their kids playing 50-70 hockey games over the course of the summer.

The summer. That's preposterous.

The other reason? Because it's quite common that such specialization isn't about the kids. It's about the parents living vicariously through the kids, and the promotion of such specialization is more about the dollars involved (i.e. the amount of money a family forks over for a kid to play on a select or AAA hockey team) than it is about making the kids better hockey players.

Bottom line: Minnesota high school sports aren't going anywhere. The club/academy model might be viable in small areas, but it's got a long way to go before it's ever going to overtake what community-driven sports teams can offer.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Huskies Extend the Summer

Not that summer ends when the Duluth Huskies are done, but it's nice to see the local baseball season extended.

After all, no one is worried about the Twins or Brewers doing anything this season.

(Let's be nice, though. The Twins just made headlines by setting a Major League Baseball record, scoring 23 straight runs off home runs over six games. Probably a good thing, because the hitters had three hits in 48 at bats with runners in scoring position.)

Anyway, the Huskies have been a good franchise in the Northwoods League since joining in 2003. They haven't always drawn wonderfully well, but we haven't heard a lot of threats -- real or implied -- about the franchise leaving or being dissolved. Couldn't say that about the Duluth-Superior Dukes when they were around, because it never seemed like there was a full season without someone saying the team would be on the move if attendance didn't improve.

Duluth has experienced some success in the league, but the Huskies hadn't made the playoffs since 2007 before this summer. They hadn't played in the league championship series since 2004.

Until this year.

Duluth advanced to the Summer Collegiate World Series with a 2-1 win over Waterloo Tuesday in Waterloo. The Huskies won the series 2-0.

On paper, it appeared to be a bit of a mismatch. Waterloo beat the Huskies by eight games in the standings, and Duluth had to get in based on overall record, because the Bucks won both halves in the North Division. Of course, baseball games aren't played on paper. They're played on the internet.


Anyway, the Huskies bucked that trend throughout the season, taking eight of ten meetings from the Bucks. Kept it going when it mattered most, too, and now Duluth has a chance to play for a championship.

Wade Stadium rocks when it's nice out and people are drawn in. The Huskies really had it going down the stretch of the regular season, bringing in some huge crowds that took advantage of good weather to see a hot baseball team.

The Dukes had those nights, too, but when you pay players, the bottom line is a little tougher to deal with. I don't know what the attendance average is for the Huskies to post a profit, but I know it was higher for the Dukes because the players drew salaries, no matter how small. And the Dukes didn't have enough nice crowds to keep things going.

Once other cities started building nice, new stadiums, Duluth was priced out of that league.

The Northwoods League is a perfect fit. Players aren't paid a salary, and travel expenses are kept as small as possible. The Huskies will be just fine in this league, and stretches like the weather we've been seeing should help put more bodies in the seats at the Wade.

GM Craig Smith and field boss Daniel Hersey have done a magnificent job with this club. Sometimes, you look at the batting order and think they're a little short offensively compared to other clubs, but Duluth gets timely hitting from all over the place (they had a comeback win recently where almost all the major damage was done by the bottom of the order), and they pitch as well as anyone in the league.

Hopefully, Hersey gets a chance to give the ball to league Pitcher of the Year Clay Chapman in the title series. If he does, you can bet the Huskies will have a chance to win that game. And the way this team has been pitching, they have a chance against either Lakeshore or Madison.

It's fun to see relevant baseball from someone this deep into the summer, isn't it?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Random Rabble: August 12

Those who live around the Duluth area know why I haven't been around much. It hasn't been because I don't enjoy throwing up the occasional blog about nothing significant.

Been exceptionally busy with the real job, but hopefully things are back to normal on this day. It'll allow me to get back into my normal late-summer routine, preparing for the fall and winter sports season.

UMD football is first up. I'm looking forward to getting up to campus next week for Media Day as we start to get a lay of the land. New coach in Curt Wiese, a good dude and a guy I think we in the media will all like from a standpoint of access and information. New quarterback to "replace" Chase Vogler, one of the more understated guys to come through this program in a long time. I never doubted for a second that Isaac Odim was appreciated when he was playing at UMD. I'm not entirely sure Vogler was appreciated as much as he should have been.

For evidence, look at what he did for the offense in the playoff loss to Missouri Western. 379 total yards, including 184 on the ground. Yeah, Austin Sikorski was a beast running that day, but Vogler almost singlehandedly kept UMD in the game, especially when Western was threatening a blowout early.

Sikorski is back, as is Aaron Roth and most of the offensive line. The defense was practically disastrous at times, especially in the St. Cloud and Western losses. That said, John Steger is a hell of a coach, and nearly everyone is back there as well.

If that's not enough local football, a St. Scholastica team that returns a ton of talent is picked to win the UMAC in the preseason league coaches' poll. The Saints started slowly last year as they broke in a new starting quarterback (Tyler Harper) and tried to find an offensive identity. A 7-1 UMAC record put CSS in a three-way tie for first, one that was broken by a blind draw conducted over the internet; and CSS won the draw for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.

The Saints have a slew of starters back, including Harper and running backs Jake Jensen and Chris Gassert. However, the receiving corps took a hit, including the graduation of Nick Thiry, and the defensive line lost a lot of talent.

I'm excited to see what Wisconsin does in its first year under Gary Andersen. Longtime blog readers will know that I was never really a fan of Bret Bielema. I just didn't trust him in big games or close games, and his record -- especially last year -- would seem to support my trust issues. Andersen last worked at Utah State, hardly a powerhouse, but he built a winner there after years of mediocre or worse football.

Job No. 1: Find a quarterback. Usually, I'd put my chips in on the guy the new coach recruited, but it doesn't sound like junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy is throwing well early on. He's the best athlete of the bunch, but senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave are both probably better options for the passing game, at least in the early going. How quickly the quarterback race comes together will determine Wisconsin's BCS hopes.

Speaking of the B1G, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had a must-read feature on Minnesota coach Jerry Kill in Sunday's paper.
Now, at the dawn of a new season, Kill has come to a pivotal juncture in his eight-year quest to gain control of his seizures. The Gophers need to keep improving, and he needs to prove he can stay healthy.

Knowing the stakes, he found a new doctor, changed medication plans, honed his diet, exercised and adopted a whole new outlook — embracing the word epilepsy instead of shunning it.

“Believe me, there’s nobody who’s trying to do the right thing more than I am because I love coaching the game of football,” Kill said. “And I want to make sure I never have a situation, ever, during a game again.”

Experts say about 70 percent of the people with epilepsy can become seizure-free with the right medication. Kill insists he’s making progress.
We learn that stress and a lack of sleep can make the body less resistant to these seizures. The point? Kill's chosen profession -- football coach -- practically invites his body to continue to have these problems. It means that everything else he does has to be done almost perfectly. He has to make sure he gets enough rest, relaxes as much as possible, and he can't let his guard down.

When Kill seized at halftime of that game against Michigan State last season -- his fifth documented seizure since taking the UMTC job -- people began to talk about the need for the university to move on. Kill himself says in this article that he understands he can't miss entire halves of games when he's the head coach.

Kill is a good coach, and I've heard very good things about him away from the field, too. There is no reason to do anything here but wish for the best for him and his family. He wants to coach, so hopefully his body allows him to continue doing so.