First off, I would like to send best wishes to coach Paul Miller, who announced earlier this week he is taking a leave of absence from the Minnesota Crookston football program to deal with health issues. I certainly hope he can come back at some point 100 percent healthy.
Not many programs get excited about a two-win season but UMC had every reason to celebrate last year's 2-9 mark. Sure, the road was bumpy at times, like the 61-0 drubbing from Augustana and the 58-6 loss to Winona State to open the season. However, the big 33-28 victory over Southwest Minnesota State on homecoming snapped a horrid conference losing streak and a thrilling 37-36 win over Mary at the Alerus Center to end the season was memorable.
Despite graduating star running back Richard Haley and standout defensive back Cecil Brown, the Golden Eagles were in a good position to take another step this season.
Then, offseason hit and things went haywire.
Offensive lineman Jeremy Kelly, an all-conference honorable selection in his first two seasons with UMC, transferred to North Dakota State. Defensive coordinator Ty Knott left the program, as did quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Richie Wessman, who was also the recruiting coordinator. Then it was starting quarterback A.J. Barge being arrested for armed burglary and this became one offseason the Golden Eagles would like to forget.
Barge was dismissed from the team and the school, which was absolutely the right decision. There should be zero tolerance for an act like that even if it was with an air gun.
Add to all that coach Miller's leave of absence and it's been an unstable few months for the program. And that's exactly what the program doesn't need. It needs stability and structure, not coaches leaving after one season and star players being arrested.
So, what are we to make of this upcoming season? What are we to expect?
The Golden Eagles are returning eight of 11 defensive starters, which is huge. However, just 5-of-6 offensive starters from last season come back.
Junior wide receiver Marcus Cheatham broke out last season with 40 receptions for nearly 500 yards and tied a school record with eight touchdown receptions. Also, junior center Sam Smith returns to anchor the offensive line.
Senior defensive back Tevin Kellum and senior linebacker Ricky Jacobs are top returners to a defensive that showed signs of improving last year.
The Golden Eagles will not have the explosive run game like they have had in the past with Haley, but it should be very good with senior bruiser Keith McBride and sophomore speedster Talo Pascal in the backfield.
The question on the offensive is at quarterback. Jordan Manahan, a junior college transfer, is probably the favorite coming in just because of his experience, but he should be pushed by Perham product Ben Bucholz, a redshirt sophomore, and freshmen Kyle Larson and Nathan Cole.
Page 2 of 2 - Whomever wins the quarterback job will need to step in and make smart throws, and also be able to scramble for positive yards when the pocket breaks up.
See, wasn't that therapeutic to actually talk about the game instead of off the field issues?
The season kicks off Sept. 6 at Ed Widseth Field against Upper Iowa, who was also 2-9 last season.
What do you say we put this offseason behind us, start the season with a big "W" and a two-game winning streak for coach Miller?