MOORHEAD — A two-sport athlete for Minnesota State Moorhead, junior Justin Magnuson's unofficial return to the Dragons wrestling team last season happened at a gas station in Valley City, N.D.

Magnuson was home for semester break since he wasn't supposed to rejoin the wrestling team until the start of the second semester with MSUM's football season extending to Dec. 1. A season-ending injury to the MSUM heavyweight accelerated Magnuson's return to the wrestling mat.

"We weren't planning to bring him back to the team until classes started for the second semester," Dragons head wrestling coach Kris Nelson said. "We got a hold of Jordan and he decided to be a team player. He didn't really have any practices under his belt."

The Dragons picked up the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Magnuson at a Valley City gas station last January on the way to the University of Mary in Bismarck for a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference dual with another dual against Minot State scheduled the next day.

"It was crazy to pick him up the day of the dual," Nelson added. "We brought him his wrestling shoes and everything."

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Minnesota State Moorhead head football coach Steve Laqua answers questions Wednesday, Aug. 21, during Dragons media day. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Minnesota State Moorhead head football coach Steve Laqua answers questions Wednesday, Aug. 21, during Dragons media day. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Dragons head football coach Steve Laqua said it takes a special individual to excel in two college sports as physically demanding as football and wrestling, with not many breaks throughout the year with the offseason training needed for both sports.

"It's a testament to him and his grittiness and his willingness to show up and work hard every day because these are two physical sports that he's doing," Laqua said. "It's a grind on the body."

Magnuson is expected to be one of the key figures on the MSUM defense. The defensive tackle finished sixth on the team with 49 tackles last season, including 4.5 for a loss. The Dragons return seven starters on defense on a team that posted an 8-4 record that ended with a trip to the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo. That game was played last Dec. 1.

Magnuson said having a supportive family and teammates and coaches in both sports have also helped him play two college sports. At Valley City High School, he also played baseball.

"Your coaches and your teammates really help you out a lot in getting your spirits up," Magnuson said. "I love doing both and I have basically for my entire life. I love doing it."

Those first two wrestling matches last January didn't go well for Magnuson, but he ended up qualifying for the Division II national tournament at heavyweight by the end of the season.

"It was pretty sweet to see the top-level guys in the country and see where my training needs to get to," Magnuson said.

Magnuson is also excited about the Dragons football season that ended at the Mineral Water Bowl, which was the program's first postseason appearance since 1994.

"We had a great year," Magnuson said. "Hopefully, we have a better year this year."

Defensive line is an area of strength for the Dragons with junior Darius Woods-Steichen (6-2, 264) returning as a starter at defensive end. Woods-Steichen led the team with 8.5 sacks last fall. Junior defensive tackle Hunter Sall (6-3, 265) and senior defensive end Matt Domek (6-4, 240) also started last season.

Woods-Steichen played high school football in Waubun, Minn., and Sall played at Central Cass High School in Casselton, N.D. Laqua said having area recruits like Magnuson, Woods-Steichen and Sall plays key roles on the team is important.

"They've got some pride in this program, they've got some pride in representing the people of this area," Laqua said. "Being able to have guys you can lean on defensively like that is comforting as a coach."