HAVRE – With a new coaching staff in place, there’s a new energy, attitude and level of excitement surrounding the MSU-Northern football team.
But the Lights aren’t interested in hype.
After just two wins in the last three seasons, first year head coach Andrew Rolin has set out to create a culture change in Havre. The first steps were winter conditioning, assembling a new staff, recruiting and spring drills. And with the Lights in their first week of fall camp, now is the time for the ground work to pay off.
“We said it from the beginning — we’re going to lay a foundation for this moment,” Rolin said. “This is what it’s for, it’s for the season. And it’s really cool to see the young guys come in and acclimate to what the juniors and sophomores and guys have been here have laid out. The foundation is laid and now we’re building off of it.”
The Lights feature a mix of returners and new players who will be the building blocks of what Rolin believes will be a successful future. Below is a breakdown of each position group for the Lights 2018 season:
Two returners are in the mix to start under center. Senior Tommy Wilson and sophomore Bryce Missey both saw time running the offense in 2017 and split reps with the first team in the spring and beginning of fall.
ROLIN: “Both guys are competing right now, and that’s what I want. That position is a competition position, there’s one guy on the field that plays, so we put them in competitive situations all the time. I put them in tough situations. I know if we put them in tough situations now, then eventually, when the game comes, it’s going to slow down. And that’s what we want. So it’s a healthy competition and I tell them all the time, iron sharpens iron as another man sharpens another. They’re making each other better every day and that’s the mentality we have in that room. And true freshman Brendan Medina is a talented player and I think he’s going to be a good player down the road for us. He’s getting reps and competing too.”
Junior running back Jett Robertson is the most experienced Lights ball carrier after backing up Zach McKinley in 2016. Robertson missed the entire 2017 following back surgery, but is healthy and ready for a breakout season. The Lights feature several young running backs that will factor into the running back equation. Sam Braboy, Andrez Trahan and Codi Small are all new to the program and sophomore Conner Crawford saw time in the back field last year. Former Geraldine-Highwood star Wyatt McKinley is back in his fullback position.
ROLIN: “We’ve got Jett and then Connor Crawford has stepped up coming off an injury. And we have three young freshman backs that are really exciting, there’s no doubt they’re going to have to play for us this year and they’re stepping up now in a big role. There’s a lot to our offense, and so their noses are in the play book and they’re figuring it out and they’re able to execute it out on the field, which is pretty big.”
The Lights feature plenty of experience at wide receiver led by fifth year seniors Sam Mix and Seth Roemmelle. Marvin Williams is the top returning receiver, leading the Lights with 37 catches for 626 yards in 2017. Fotios Jordanoglou and Bryce Baumgardner also averaged over 10 yards per catch last year.
ROLIN: “Fotios Jordanoglou had a nice spring and it’s nice to have Marvin Williams back. He’s making some big plays. Sam Mix, Seth Roemmelle those guys have really stepped up as seniors and you always know they’re going to be in the right spot. Young guy Jake Horner (CMR) has really stepped up. He stayed here all summer, which has been a huge help for him. He’s progressed a lot just from June to July. He’s ready to play. Bryce Baumgarner is another guy who athletically is ready to go and he’s making strides from a mental standpoint.”
The Lights boast a big offensive line which should be much deeper than last year. Clint Willis (6-7, 300 lbs) returns at left tackle and has attracted attention from pro scouts. Fellow senior Dale Cummings helps anchor a line that Rolin considers the strength of the team.
ROLIN: “Clint Willis and Dale Cummings are our two senior leaders, and I’m excited about the rest of the guys up front. We’ve built some depth. We have some young guys that are going to be backups. But we have six to seven guys right now that I feel real great about. And they play physical and they play smart and they’re athletic. So they’re everything we look forward to in this offense. That’s probably the strength of our offense right now. Everyone else is coming along, but it’s going to start up front especially in this offense. I said it at media days — we’re going to run the football and it starts with them.”
The defensive front is likely the most untested position on the Lights. Injuries hampered the defensive line last year, which gave players like former Eureka star Joe Fehr a chance to see some in-game reps. Rolin and his staff recruited four defensive ends and four defensive tackles, many of whom are talented enough to start right away.
ROLIN: “We got some young guys coming in that are explosive and exciting. But they’re just figuring it out right now. If they figure it out and they mature in the next couple weeks, they’re going to play for us and we have a couple of guys coming back. Joe Fehr had a great spring. Those guys are going to be the foundation of the defensive line, but we’re going to have some young guys step up and some transfers that will have to step up and make some plays for us this fall.”
The most experienced group on the defensive side of the ball features senior Alec Wagner (5-11, 225 lbs), a three-year starter for the Lights. The Laurel product is the team’s most productive returning tackler, racking up 48 tackles and a sack in 2017. But sophomores Jake Norby, Peter Hamilton and Jaren Maki also saw significant playing time last year.
ROLIN: “That’s our veteran group on defense. Those guys get us lined up right. We’ve got some seniors in that group, some guys that played, and that are still young but at least have some experience. We have depth in that room. We’re going to lose some guys after this season, so we’ll be recruiting some linebackers, but excited about that room and where we’re at right now.”
The Lights return their top defensive back from a year ago in cornerback Devariej Criss, and Rolin says he’s had a good spring and fall so far. Former Cut Bank quarterback Wylie Novak has really developed as a safety, but there’s still a lot of competition at the other spots.
ROLIN: “Devariej Criss has really stepped up in the past few days. Wylie Novak has had a nice spring and is having a nice fall camp so far. I’m excited about those two. Ostin Welch, another kid from Malta, has played well. It will be interesting, that other corner spot, who it is going to be. Caymus Thomas played both ways last year and Damien Nelson, young kid from CMR is a stud and a really good football player. Gary Carter from California has made plays as well. We’re deep. We’re young, but we’re deep, so it will be interesting to see how that all shakes out by the end of fall camp.”
The Lights will hold their first scrimmage of the season Saturday, August 11 from 9:50 a.m. – 11:50 a.m., and will host Mayville State in their season opener on Saturday, August 25 at 1 p.m.
“It’s a short fall camp so we have to get that scrimmage in now,” Rolin said. “So we’ll be done with our installs by then. We’re going to see who can play, who can execute when the live bullets hit.”