'Triple threat' lives up to billing
When the phrase "triple threat" is used in football, it has always meant a player who can run, pass and kick.
These days, though, if you look up the phrase in a dictionary, chances are good you might find a picture of Trebian Suggs.
The Fond du Lac Thunder freshman won a "Player of the Week" award from the Minnesota College Athletic Conference for the second time this season, even though the Thunder lost 48-26 to Dakota College-Bottineau on Saturday, Oct. 20, in Duluth.
Suggs, from Pensacola, Fla., had four kickoff returns in the game, averaging 32 yards per return and scoring a touchdown. But here's where the triple threat part comes in.
Suggs also rushed for 101 yards — and passed for 206 more when the Thunder's top two quarterbacks went down with injuries. That's 435 all-purpose yards, and that's not bad at all.
"We knew he would make a splash when we brought him up here," Thunder coach Davin DePoe said. "His athleticism and his confidence are very good. He's met every expectation we could have had of him.
"You can ask him to do anything," DePoe added. "He's a shutdown corner, a lights-out slot receiver, you can put him on the perimeter and let him run, you can put him in the backfield. You don't know where he's going and you have to account for him. We can find matchups with Trebian, and when we do, he performs."
However, even with Suggs' heroics, the Thunder lost the last five games of their season after a 3-0 start. Still, that was good enough to make the league playoffs and earned the team a trip to Central Lakes on Saturday, Oct. 27, in search of the program's first playoff win in at least six years.
The losing skid included last-minute losses against Mesabi Range and Vermilion, and included the one issue DePoe knew would affect his team down the stretch: depth.
The Thunder started the season with 60 players and are down to just over 30 due to the aches, pains and worse that come with playing college football.
"The defense has been especially hard hit," DePoe said. "We had games where we had no healthy linemen, games where we had two. We've used linebackers as defensive ends and they aren't cut out to deal with 290-pound pulling guards. We've used safeties as linebackers, but these kids have never given up."
Part of the problem has been the explosiveness of the Thunder offense, which is officially ranked second in the nation in net passing yards, but which may rise to first due to a statistical error found from earlier in the season. The team is 17th in national junior college football in total offense.
"We can score on any given play," DePoe said. "Sometimes we score too quickly and teams can grind our defense. We did that against Mesabi, we drove the field late but scored way too quickly, and they came back and beat us."
That offense has been pretty darned good.
In addition to Suggs, wideout Keenan Brown had six catches for 129 yards and fellow receiver LaDarin McAllister had a 71-yard scoring catch. Linebacker Cedric King and defensive backs Dante Jones and KeAndre Smith have led the defense.
"Every person on our team can get down the field," DePoe said.
"Depth has been the issue, but the offensive line has come a really long way," DePoe said. "We have so many good pieces. But right now, we only have about 30 healthy guys and everyone else has 60. The players fight all the way through but we're putting Band-Aids on things this year to get through while we build for next year."
That might include more local talent. DePoe has seen just about all the local teams and has an idea of who would fit with his team.
"I know who I like in the area, who could contribute," he said. "We should get most all the freshmen back from this year's team so there's a good core coming back and we have 10-15 players from this year who couldn't play because they were getting their eligibility sorted out."
So the future may look even brighter.
"Next year, we'd like to add a run game that complements how we can throw the ball," DePoe said. "Once we get to a point where we have more depth, the wins will keep coming."
But to defeat top-seeded Central Lakes, it will take a special effort.
"We'll go there and try to beat a team we've never beaten," DePoe said. "We played them a couple weeks ago with players hurt that we've got back now. We have nothing to lose, they have everything to lose. We'll take our chances and see what happens."