Beavers back to business

Finally, the Minot State football team can eat, sleep and breathe football. And answer questions about … strictly football.

Since the Beavers’ season ended Nov. 16, two head coaches have packed up and left, littering the program with distractions.

After seven years at the helm, Paul Rudolph accepted the offensive coordinator position at the University of North Dakota. And Todd Hoffner – who spent just 75 days at MSU and never coached a game – was reinstated as head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato a week after an arbitrator ruled that he had been wrongfully fired in May 2013.

On Thursday evening, MSU kicked off its 2014 season with a practice under the lights at Herb Parker Stadium.

“It’s great to get back and get back with the new coaching staff and all my teammates,” junior quarterback Zac Cunha said Wednesday at MSU’s media day. “We’re going to start working toward that first game against Sioux Falls.”

MSU, coming off a 2-9 season, opens its schedule Sept. 6 against the Cougars at Bob Young Field in Sioux Falls, S.D.

First-year coach Tyler Hughes has lofty goals for a program four years removed from its last winning season.

“We want to have a winning record,” said Hughes, who was hired in April after serving as an assistant at Ohio State last season. “That’s one goal and the second piece of that is making sure we can evaluate a consistent improvement from our players every single day. We as coaches have ways to do that and we just need to make sure we are having that improvement every single day from now until the end of the season.”

A major challenge for Hughes will be blending the team’s 32 newcomers with its veterans. The Beavers, who lost 15 seniors from last year’s squad, have 19 true freshmen and 13 transfers (12 from junior colleges).

“It can be very difficult,” said Hughes, whose career includes a two-year head coaching stint at Snow College in Utah. “I coached junior college for a number of years and we always had new faces and a new turned-over roster every season. With that I feel like this fits into what I’ve had to do in the past, which I think will help us this year.

“This isn’t what we want to do every year, but it will help me this year because I’ve had experience with this.”

In the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s preseason poll, MSU was picked 15th among 16 teams. Hughes, who will handle play-calling duties, has indicated in the past that he’ll employ some variation of the pro-style offense his Snow College teams had success with. In 2006 with Hughes helping coach the Badgers’ offense, they ranked first in the NJCAA in scoring. As an offensive coordinator, four of his teams at Snow finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring.

“We need to be that way,” Hughes said. “The name of the game is to score points and I was fortunate enough to be on a number of teams where we did score a number of points. We need to do that here.”

Throughout the offseason, the Beavers also shifted from a 3-4 defense to a four-man front, with opportunities to adjust to offenses. Fifteen practice sessions during the spring season helped with that transition. Senior defensive back Levi Freidt, a Bishop Ryan product, expects the change to pay dividends.

“We’ll be pretty multiple on defense and be able to show opposing offenses many different looks and make it hard to scout us on Saturdays,” Freidt said.

In its first two seasons of NSIC football, the Beavers have had their share of obstacles. Cunha calls it “the best division in Division II football.”

But at least now, instead of dealing with off-the-field distractions and plenty of changeover, the Beavers can prepare for Week 1.

It’s three weeks and one day away.

Mike Kraft contributed to reporting.

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.