Minnesota, Crookston football players report Thursday and practice officially kicks into full gear on Saturday.
There are a lot of new faces coming in too.
"We have 50 newcomers," said UMC Head Coach Paul Miller in a phone interview with the Times Monday. "We have more newcomers than returners. That creates competition and that's one of the first things you're trying to do as a football program. We accomplished that in the offseason and that will add to the depth of the program. That's been a need for a while here."
At the most important position, quarterback, Coach Miller said the starting job is up for grabs.
"The quarterback job is up in the air," he said. "If we were playing tomorrow A.J. Barge would have the advantage. It's a competitive situation and that's what we want."
Barge, a sophomore from Carrollton, Ga., played in 11 games last year and threw for 732 yards on a 50 percent completion percentage with five touchdowns and five interceptions. He ran for 712 yards on 162 attempts and eight touchdowns.
Josh Perea, a junior from Pico Riveria, Calif., played in six games, throwing for 52 yards on a 42 percent completion percentage with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
New this year is the highly touted Derek Stewart II from Carson, Calif. He was profiled by the Times back in March when he signed with UMC. Go online to read the profile.
Also returning is the most electric running back in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, senior Richard Haley, who was All-NSIC North Division First Team Offense last season.
The Detroit, Mich. native led the conference with an average of 141.5 yards per game in his 11 games last season with eight touchdowns. His 305 attempts also led the conference. In the season opener at home against Mayville State last year he ran for 225 yards on 30 attempts. He topped that three weeks later on the road when he ran for 237 yards on 43 attempts with a touchdown against MSU-Moorhead. Three weeks after that he recorded three touchdowns and 138 yards on 21 rushes on the road against Northern State.
"Rich Haley has been here this summer," noted Coach Miller. "He has done a nice job. He seems to have made some progress."
Haley and the rest of the Golden Eagle offense will be implementing a new offense this season.
"We have been putting in a new offensive package in spring," Coach Miller said. "With the number of newcomers and a new offensive coordinator we're back to square one. We have a lot of things we need to accomplish."
Other top players returning for the Golden Eagles this year include: sophomore linebacker Brody Davidson, a Crookston native, and sophomore offensive tackle Jeremy Kelly. Both were named All-NSIC North Division honorable mention as freshman last year.
"We are looking forward to this season," said Coach Miller. "The general sense is that we've made some progress. We need to get things done on the field, hopefully the scoreboard will take care of itself."