Dragons senior Strand has connection to football program's 100-season history
Andy McCarty played football for Minnesota State Moorhead in an era that was much different than current day. They wore leather helmets with no facemasks and no mouthguards.
During a scrimmage against Concordia in the 1950s, McCarty went in for a tackle and came out with teeth missing.
"I tackled him and, oh boy," said the 87-year-old McCarty, who now lives in Park Rapids, Minn.
McCarty has a link to the current Dragons team. His grandson is senior linebacker Michael Strand, one of the team's top players as the Dragons prepare for their 100th football season.
"I know there's one time he said he played some famous guy from Concordia and he got his teeth knocked out," Strand said Wednesday during MSUM media day.
That "famous guy" from Concordia was Jim Christopherson, who also went on to become a legendary head coach for the Cobbers. McCarty said he lost a good portion of the teeth on the upper right side of his mouth from the collision.
"I chipped them all," said McCarty, who was also a high school football coach for more than 30 seasons.
McCarty played linebacker and halfback for what was then Minnesota State Teachers College from 1955-56. He was later inducted into the Dragons Hall of Fame. He's been to nearly every game Strand has played with the Dragons. Strand, from Barnesville, Minn., has started for MSUM since his redshirt freshman season in 2015.
McCarty said the level of athleticism has evolved since he played for the Dragons.
"They're gifted people, even at the level they're at," McCarty said. "They're outstanding athletes."
Strand has been a stalwart at safety for the Dragons during his previous three seasons, but has switched to linebacker for his final season. He started the position change during spring ball. The Dragons have new co-defensive coordinators in Carlton Littlejohn and Joey Blackmore. Both are former North Dakota State football players. Littlejohn was a standout linebacker for the Bison and played on four NCAA Division I FCS national championship teams.
"When he's talking, a guy who was as good as he was at NDSU, you listen," said Strand, who had 45 tackles last season. "You always want to learn from the guys who have been there and done it well."
Dragons head coach Steve Laqua said the reason for moving Strand from safety to linebacker was to get one of the team's top defensive playmakers closer to the line of scrimmage.
"We're trying to get one of our better players to be in the heat of the action as much as he can," Laqua said. "He brings a high level of athleticism and speed and then you throw in his toughness."
Under the direction of Littlejohn and Blackmore, Laqua said the Dragons are going to run a 4-3 defense that is similar to the scheme at NDSU.
"Carlton has done phenomenal job with our linebackers," Laqua said. "We've really seen a spike in their play since spring ball. (Strand) is playing like a veteran at that position. That's a tribute to Carlton."
Strand said the defense is already developing a new attitude under the new co-defensive coordinators.
"They've been able to change the mindset of everybody on the defense," Strand said. "They know what it takes to get to that level."
The Dragons posted a 5-6 record last season, a disappointment for a team that had a 7-4 mark in 2016. MSUM opens up the regular season against Minnesota-Crookston on Aug. 30 at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium.
"We're kind of over last year. This is a new year, new team," Strand said. "We've got a lot of grit on this team. We're just ready to attack the season and prove the doubters wrong."
Strand also may have more conversations with his grandpa about Dragons football.
"100 years, that's awesome, I'd love to learn more about the history," Strand said.