College football: Cloquet’s Pokornowski one of the leaders for UMD’s defense
Former quarterback makes transition to safety for the Bulldogs.
DULUTH — Tim Pokornowski was known as an elusive quarterback for the 2017 Cloquet Lumberjacks, a slippery runner who was also adept at throwing the football.
Minnesota Duluth recruits athletes and never envisioned Pokornowski under center but as a heady safety who could patrol the defensive backfield for the Bulldogs.
Pokornowski has become just that in five seasons at UMD. The 6-foot-2, 186-pound senior will help lead the Bulldogs into their season opener at 6 p.m. Thursday against Southwest Minnesota State at Malosky Stadium.
Pokornowski said he has come a long way as a defensive player since he first stepped foot on campus. He’s adjusted well.
“I feel like it’s a world of difference,” Pokornowski said. “When I came in I didn’t really play a lot of defense in high school. I barely even knew how to backpedal but now I feel like I can backpedal really well, with the best of them, probably with the best receivers, so it’s been very good improvements.”
Southwest Minnesota State includes Pokornowski’s former Cloquet teammate Dylan Lauer, a senior offensive lineman, and Alec Churness, a freshman defensive back from Two Harbors.
The Mustangs also have a new coach in Scott Underwood, who recorded 10 winning seasons and made three NCAA Division II playoff appearances at St. Cloud State from 2008 to 2019 before the Huskies dropped their program.
“Southwest has some new coaches over there, so we’re not quite sure what we’re going to get,” Pokornowski said. “So we’re kind of guessing and seeing what they’re going to have for us.”
Pokornowski, who also excels at UMD as a baseball outfielder, was the 2017 News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year after leading Cloquet to the Class AAAA state title game. The dual-threat quarterback completed 100 of 179 passes for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns while adding another 1,156 yards on the ground.
After redshirting at UMD in 2018, he played in 10 games for the Bulldogs in 2019, with 10 tackles and an interception. After COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season, Pokornowski was set to be a starter last fall only to miss most of the season after breaking his foot in fall camp.
UMD is coming off a 9-3 season and 12th appearance in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“I think the Bulldogs are looking great, man,” Pokornowski said. “The offense and defense are just starting to click, starting to click on all cylinders. At the end of camp here we’ve made a lot of adjustments and are really playing top defense right now.”
Pokornowski is joined at safety by Marcus Glodowski, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, giving the Bulldogs experience on the back end of their defense.
“Both those guys have been program guys for us,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “They had an opportunity to start games for the first time last fall and made a big impact in our program. They are playing extremely confident football. They understand our defense and are doing a good job mentoring the younger guys as well. We’re excited to see them help lead our defense.”
UMD returns senior Dayvia Gbor at cornerback and had a wide-open battle at the other corner spot, with Rayshion Brumfield, a senior transfer from Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wisconsin, listed as the starter and sophomore Craesean Slaton of Milwaukee backing him up.
The Bulldogs will be anchored in the middle by linebackers Brad Dati — the NSIC North Division preseason defensive player of the year — and Cole Refsnider. The seniors are both captains.
“We’re in a pretty good spot there,” Wiese said.
Jonny Jensen and Drew Hennessey will start at outside linebacker with junior Brady Herbst of Superior backing up Hennessey.
The 6-foot-5, 282-pound Nathan Bursch, a senior who transferred to UMD from the University of Minnesota in 2019 and has been a regular with the Bulldogs, will anchor the defensive front.
“These guys are veterans. They just haven’t played a ton of snaps for us,” Wiese said.
Pokornowski said there’s no other group he would rather play with. He has another year of eligibility remaining after this fall and plans to use it. He also admitted he misses playing quarterback, saying “absolutely I do,” but added he’ll do “whatever he can do to help the team win.”
Spoken like a true Bulldog.
“It means a lot to me (playing here),” Pokornowski said. “Growing up I would come to UMD football games and stuff like that, and now people can come to my games and watch me compete and play. It’s really a cool thing.”
SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA STATE AT MINNESOTA DULUTH
What: College football season opener; NSIC game
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1
Where: Malosky Stadium
Forecast: Sunny with a high of 81 and 11 mph wind
2021 records: UMD 9-3, Southwest 2-9