Thunder veterans are ‘all business’
Thunder football coach Keith Turner has seen certain parts of his team before.
Of the 55 Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College players he greeted at the start of fall practice this week, 23 are second-year players — and those players remind him of one of his best groups.
“These kids remind me a lot of a similar group I had at Vermilion,” Turner said. “Those kids were so dedicated, so ready to play. These kids are a lot like that. The kids I had at Vermilion wound up playing in a bowl game and that isn’t beyond the capabilities of these players.”
Turner said the squad is a bit smaller than he would like to see it, but general growth at the college has hindered squad size.
“We just don’t have room,” he said. “The most we’ll take is 65 and we ran out of room in the dorms. That’s a positive thing.”
Turner said the team’s defensive front seven will be deep and talented and that gives reason for optimism.
“Marcel Richardson (Stone Mountain, Ga.) played well last year as a freshman but he got frustrated at times because he wasn’t used to being blocked,” Turner said. “He dropped 20 pounds and he’s stronger and faster now. Logan Crowser (Cloquet) played defensive end and he’s added 20 pounds of muscle. These kids look like men compared to a year ago.”
Defense in general should be a strong point.
“We’re a little young in the defensive backfield,” he said. “For the most part they will be freshmen, and if we can overcome the tendency to get caught out of position on occasion we should be OK.”
Carlton Goss (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Marcus Williams (Chicago) are expected to anchor the offensive line. Running back Te’Vaughan Hurse (Fort Wayne, Ind.) has already verbally committed to Division I Youngstown State next year while wide receiver Damon Barnes (Baltimore, Md.) has received an offer from FCS school James Madison.
At quarterback, Turner said his team might be a three-headed monster.
“We have three guys who are going to have to sort out who plays,” Turner said, explaining that Aaron Nelson of Esko will battle Jarred White, who is a transfer from North Dakota State College of Science, and true freshman Kendarian Carter.
“The quarterback is going to have to be efficient,” Turner said. “Last year we turned over the ball a lot but this group will take care of the football.”
The schedule will be different this year as well. Again this year the team will play three of its four home games in Superior at the new high school athletic complex and one game — Sept. 26 against Central Lakes — at Bromberg Field in Cloquet. Three of the first four games of the schedule are on the road, including a Sept. 5 trip to Wahpeton, N.D., for the first-ever game against new conference members North Dakota State College of Science.
“They are a former scholarship school who gave up their scholarship status to join our league,” Turner said. “When we go there they will have 100 players just like Rochester does and they’ll be a favorite to win the whole thing.”
The team’s first game begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, against Minnesota State-Fergus Falls in Superior.
Turner says the team’s success will rest squarely on the shoulders of the second-year players.
“They know our expectations,” Turner said, “and they are not happy with just making the playoffs. They want to win the conference and have the chance to play for a state championship. They showed it on the first day and they made it clear to the freshmen that when we are on the field it’s all business.”
“When you’re in the dorms, you’re doing your business, not staying up all night playing Xbox or social media,” Turner added. “This is about getting to the places you want to get to in life. It’s not just being here to (mess) around for four semesters. To these sophomores, it’s either ‘get with the program or hit the bricks.’”
Turner also said his whole second-year class is on course to graduate, half of them in December and the remainder in May.
“There’s really not a weak link in that group,” Turner said. “If we can be successful on the road early on we could have a very good season.”
To Turner, that means a six-win or seven-win regular season. To win seven games, that would require a win either in Wahpeton or at perennial power Rochester, so the bar is set high.
The team will scrimmage against St. Scholastica on Sunday afternoon in Duluth.