UND needs inspired effort from QB to repeat as champions
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The table for the University of North Dakota's 2001 NCAA Division II national football championship was set at breakfast four years ago.
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The table for the University of North Dakota's 2001 NCAA Division II national football championship was set at breakfast four years ago. That's when linebacker Eric Schmidt took quarterback Kelby Klosterman to the Big Sioux restaurant.
Schmidt's message was a plan on how to win an NCAA Division II title.
"He made me buy into it," Klosterman said.
One year after the championship, UND players will have to buy into something else: a new season and a new team.
With the departure of 18 seniors, the Sioux will need to blend some youth with experienced players like Klosterman if they want to make another run deep into post-season.
The transition from the glory of the title to the dog-days of working for it came at different times for different players. Center Mac Schneider began his senior season Dec. 9 -- two days after the national title game.
Klosterman waited until after the Christmas break. Senior linebacker Ethan Marquis and head coach Dale Lennon said spring football signaled the end of title talk.
"I should say spring ball, but it was something that was hard to forget for a while," Marquis said. "But all summer, I've been looking forward to this year."
UND is faced with a more difficult road than last year, mostly because its stiffest competition will come on the road.
The Sioux play at Northern Colorado on Sept. 21, at South Dakota State on Oct. 5, at North Dakota State on Oct. 12 and at Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 26.
"But it's also a lot of fun if you play well on the road," Klosterman said.
Now a senior, Klosterman has been the one taking younger players out for breakfast. Lennon said he's capable of putting up statistics worthy of the Harlon Hill, a trophy awarded to Division II's best player.
His numbers last year set the table for that kind of talk: 237 of 386 passing for 2,961 yards, 34 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. He completed 64.1 percent of his passes.
"He's one of a kind," Schneider said. "We look to him for leadership and big plays. He has a calming presence in the huddle."
Klosterman's return should help ease the loss of running back Jed Perkerewicz, receivers Dan Graf and Luke Schleusner and almost the entire offensive line.
Many of those players gave the Sioux offense a personality that will be tough to match. Suffocating defense, especially, became a team trademark.
"We need to find our own identity," Klosterman said. "The (seniors) each had their own personalities. They were a bunch of tough kids who didn't step down from anyone. They would go after it every day whether it was the practice field, the weight room or the lunch table."
Because of those seniors, the Sioux may face higher expectations this year.
"If we have a letdown or lose a game, our fans will probably wonder 'What the heck?'" Klosterman said. "We realize this is a new team. We won't do anything different from last year; just do our best and try and win every game."
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546