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West Fargo's Carter Birrenkott making his mark at wide receiver for Dragons during spring football practices

Minnesota State Moorhead redshirt freshman wide receiver Carter Birrenkott is in the mix to earn a starting spot next fall for the Dragons.

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Minnesota State Moorhead's Carter Birrenkott readies for the next play during morning practice at Alex Nemzek on Thursday, March 31, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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MOORHEAD — West Fargo’s Carter Birrenkott was a multiple-sport athlete in high school and helped the Packers to a North Dakota Class A boys state basketball championship during his senior year of high school in 2021.

Those hardwood skills are also evident on the gridiron for Birrenkott, who now plays wide receiver at Minnesota State Moorhead. He’s going through his first spring practices with the Dragons after redshirting in the fall.

“You can definitely see his basketball skills on the field, the way he adjusts to balls,” Dragons head coach Steve Laqua said. “It’s very similar to going up and getting rebounds and even positioning, boxing people out. You can see the skill translate from his basketball game to his football game.”

Birrenkott has impressed through a handful of spring practices and is in position to compete for a starting spot at receiver next fall. The Dragons have their spring game, a controlled scrimmage, scheduled for 4 p.m. April 23 at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium.

“We’re a long way away from setting a depth chart,” Laqua said. “He’s definitely in the mix to start. At practice, he’s been taking primarily all of his reps with the first group. … He’s shown some good flashes for being new to the position.”

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The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Birrenkott said he’s added about 10 to 15 pounds to his frame since last fall and has improved his overall strength, specifically in his lower body.

Wide receiver is a position where the Dragons need younger players to emerge with veteran pass catchers like Grady Bresnahan and Trent Marquart completing their MSUM careers last fall. Bresnahan had 75 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games, while Marquart had 48 receptions for 541 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games.

“There’s room for people like me to try to come in and step up,” Birrenkott said. “There’s a lot of room for me to get better before the fall. There’s nothing that I can’t really improve on right now.”

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Minnesota State Moorhead's Carter Birrenkott heads upfield after grabbing a pass during morning practice at Alex Nemzek on Thursday, March 31, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Birrenkott said he feels he has a better understanding of the Dragons offense this spring compared to the fall and has more confidence in himself and feels the coaches have more confidence in him.

“We’re all just trying to work together and become the best version of what we can become,” Birrenkott said. “We’ve got a lot of athletes, so a lot of competitiveness happens during spring so it’s been trending up like that.”

Dragons junior wide receiver Ryan Bieberdorf is the established veteran at that position group. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Bieberdorf was second on the team in receiving last fall with 59 catches for 696 yards and seven touchdowns.

Laqua said sophomore Garret Meehl, from Oakes, N.D., and redshirt freshman Gage Florence, from Sawyer, N.D., have also been performing well this spring and could compete for playing time at wide receiver. Meehl started his career with the Dragons at quarterback.

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Minnesota State Moorhead's Carter Birrenkott (84) runs drills during morning practice at Alex Nemzek on Thursday, March 31, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Laqua said the team lost around 25 veteran players from last fall, including a number of super seniors who took advantage of the NCAA eligibility waiver to play an extra season due to COVID-19. Laqua said that has left a leadership void.

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“It’s a young team, so everybody’s got to raise their level of play,” Laqua said. “When I look at every position group, probably except for quarterback, it’s a new voice. All the leaders of our team are gone.”

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Falk, from Jamestown, N.D., completed 252 of 413 passes (61%) for 2,874 yards and 20 touchdowns with 10 interceptions last season in his first fall as the Dragons starter. MSUM posted a 5-6 record.

Laqua said Birrenkott has a body type similar to former Dragons standout wide receiver Damon Gibson.

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Minnesota State Moorhead's Carter Birrenkott leaps to grab a pass against defender Bryson Mazur during morning practice at Alex Nemzek on Thursday, March 31, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

“He’s not there yet, but he’s one of those guys trying to get himself on the field and I think he’s done a really good job so far,” Laqua said.

If he earns a starting spot, Birrenkott provides the Dragons a big target on the outside who can create separation and make plays with his size.

“For lack of a better term, he’s Randy Moss-ing people,” Laqua said. “He’s jumping up and jumping over people. He’s got a great catch radius and can adjust to the ball.”

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Minnesota State Moorhead wide receiver Carter Birrenkott, right, is a West Fargo High School graduate.
David Samson / The Forum

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Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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