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Thunder ready for another playoff run

Second year linebacker Wyatt Finifrock of Barnum catches a ball during a drill on Tuesday during FDLTCC Thunder Football practice. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 2
Second year running back James Victor Griffin takes a handoff during FDLTCC Thunder football practice Tuesday afternoon. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 2

For Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, the football future may be now.

Coach Keith Turner expects just over 60 players to take part in pre-season practice prior to the team's Aug. 31 opener at Central Lakes.

"We never want to have more than 60 to 65 players because otherwise you don't get to look at those players and they don't get to play," Turner said. "Rochester had 110 players at the start of practice and I don't even know how you get to look at that many kids."

Of that group of 60, about 20 are second-year performers and there's a solid core of returning players from last year's playoff team.

"The thing I like is that if you look at our kids, they know what to expect and I like our sophomore leadership," Turner said. "The kids are making the freshmen buy-in to what we have to do to win a state championship. We were meeting late on Tuesday night because everyone wanted to watch extra video tape."

"The sophomores have been in the program and they know what hurt us when we lost games," Turner said. "They don't want to go there again."

The chief returning player is the league's leading rusher, Victor Griffin. Ranking in the top five nationally for most of last season, he will be counted upon heavily after having an off-season charge for possession of a controlled substance dismissed.

There will be a three way duel at quarterback this fall as well. J.T. Jurasin of Forest Lake will battle Michael Fralich from Alabama and John Washington from Louisiana.

"J.T. is the most athletic of them and throws a nice ball," Turner said. "Michael reads the field and understands what we are trying to do. John is just getting here, and feeling his way. We expect him to compete when he gets comfortable."

This year's team is more heavily dominated by out-of-area and out-of-state players, but there are still local players vying for positions.

Marquez Evans of Cloquet joins Wyatt Finifrock and Andrew Knight from Barnum on this year's team. Curt Johnston and Jordan Myles of Floodwood were both on the preliminary roster as well among Carlton County players.

Turner is excited about the team's returning experience in the trenches, where three offensive linemen and five defensive linemen return.

"Altogether, we have 19 kids as linemen and we have to figure out who is going where," he said. "Our goal is to be two-deep at every position this year and get some depth. This is probably the most talented group of linemen we have had since I have been here."

As evidence, Turner points to David Love from Waukesha, Wis.

"He's 6-7, 330, runs well, he's a true freshman," Turner said. "Cardan Perkins is back and was a center for us last year. David Cooper (Jacksonville, Fla.) put on another 10-15 pounds and it wasn't fat."

There is one potential handicap for the Thunder this year though -- they will play no home games in Cloquet.

The team's four home contests, beginning with the Sept. 7 home opener against Minnesota West, will be played in Barnum and at Superior's Ole Haugsrud Field.

"We can't get on the Cloquet field," Turner said. "There are conflicts with soccer and teams don't like to play the 5 and 6 p.m. games you have to play when the field is being used for other things. We tried to get on the new field at Esko but they couldn't guarantee it would be done."

The Eskomos have had to move their home opener to Proctor's Terry Egerdahl Field while their new field is being finished.

"Maybe if we get a home playoff game, we can get on Cloquet's field," Turner said.