There’s a new look at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College this fall, as new head coach Terry Fawcett welcomed 52 players to the start of practice this week.
Keith Turner left the head coaching position during the off-season to concentrate on his “other” role as Dean of Students at the college, leaving the reins to Fawcett, who served the last five seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator.
“Taking over from Coach Turner is a privilege,” Fawcett said. “The influence he had on our program and our players, having him around and being able to ask him questions has been important.”
But when it comes to coaching, Fawcett is very much his own man.
Coaching stops at St. Scholastica, Carlton, Duluth Central and Duluth East were sandwiched around a semi-pro championship as coach of the Superior Stampede and a stint with the Duluth-Superior Shoremen. The 25-year coach knows what he’s doing.
And one of the things Fawcett is trying to do is build depth in a program traditionally challenged by lower numbers than some of its competitors.
“There are some housing issues on campus which means we usually cap our roster at about 60,” he said. “A lot of our guys live there and we have lots of basketball players who live in housing too. We want to have enough players at every position to make us competitive.”
The Thunder have reached the MCAC playoffs for the last four seasons running, and last season led eventual national champion Rochester by 6-3 at halftime before falling 30-12.
“That’s really one of the things we pondered this off-season, how to finish a game,” Fawcett said. “Not only Rochester where we played well, but Central Lakes averaged 62 points a game and only led us 7-0 at halftime.”
Against Rochester, the Thunder had the ball at their opponent’s 1-yard line late in the first half with the lead and came out with no points.
“We didn’t score then, and we missed a field goal,” Fawcett said. “Against Central Lakes the fog rolled in, they ran the ball and kept our defense on the field the whole game. You won’t win like that.”
But last year’s team relied on defense, leading the nation’s small colleges in sacks with 51 in only nine games. It just wasn’t enough to knock off their largest opponents.
Fawcett hopes that this year, things will be different. His team will be made up of predominantly first-year players, but they’ll be older.
“We have lots of kids on the team who are 20 years old or older,” he said. “Yes, they are first-year players but they aren’t first-year players right out of high school. These are strong guys, good football players and you just get kids who are willing to work hard because it’s their last shot in school or in football.”
But don’t confuse that desire with unwillingness to work in the classroom.
“We have an obligation to help these young men not for four years, in school, but for the next 40,” Fawcett said. “In the past, I handled recruiting. It was my job to get players in the door and Coach Turner’s job to get them out the door, graduated. Now that’s more my job.”
Fawcett and his coaches worked at UMD’s team camp this summer and, as a result, got a peek at some of the players on the Bulldogs’ recruiting list.
“We had 14 players out of the 16 eligible to play at a four-year school move on to other programs and 10 of them got scholarship money,” Fawcett said. “We’re proud of that. Now we have transfers from other schools coming here to play.”
Five of Fawcett’s 52 players in the early going are quarterbacks.
“I told the team in drills that we aren’t going to lose a game this year because of a quarterback,” he said. The five hopefuls come from four different states — Minnesota, Illinois, Louisiana and Florida — and all five are playing well in early drills.
“We did some seven-on-seven drills and all five of them cut up our secondary,” Fawcett said. “That’s a good thing because we’ve been pretty dominant in some parts of our defensive play.”
Deciding among the quarterbacks is the task of Fawcett and longtime Barnum coach Kevin Haley, who is serving as offensive coordinator.
“I want to see our team take advantage of the skills of whoever is playing quarterback,” Fawcett said. “If he’s mobile, that’s what I want to see from the offense. If he’s a dropback passer, that’s what I want to see as well.”
The Thunder will get their first look at the entire team on Saturday, when the team has a morning scrimmage scheduled against Mesabi Community College.
“We want this to be about fellowship too,” Fawcett said. “We invited them (Mesabi’s players and coaches) to eat with us after the game. We want the players to hit hard and have a good workout with each other but then we want to shake hands after the game and do the little things that build team and program.”
Again this year, the team will split its four home games between Cloquet High School’s Rol Bromberg Field and the NBC Spartan Athletic Complex in Superior. After opening the season Aug. 27 at Minnesota State-Fergus Falls, the Thunder play three straight home games. The team’s last regular season home game is Oct. 1 against Rochester, in Cloquet.
“It’s good for us to split the games because we have good relationships with Mr. Lenarz in Cloquet and Bob DeMeyer in Superior,” Fawcett said. “We like the fact that we’re playing two (games) at both places because it’s good for relationships.”
The Thunder also have a new practice field across the street from the college, which the college is leasing from the city of Cloquet and which means the city soccer fields won’t be used for football.