“Defend the Herb”
MINOT – For seven months the anticipation has built to this point: Kick-off to the 2023 football season.
New Minot State head football coach Ian Shields leads his Beavers onto the field Thursday night for the home and season opener at First Western Bank Field at Herb Parker Stadium, hosting the visiting Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs at 6 p.m., and no doubt it will be an exciting evening.
“I know our players are excited,” Coach Shields said. “Our staff’s excited, we’ve been working hard here since we were hired going back to this spring semester.
“The arrows pointing up, we’re heading in the right direction. It’ll be nice to kind find out where we’re at.”
The contest will be a measuring stick for the new program against a team that Minot State went to overtime against last fall before falling 27-20 in Marshall, Minn.
But a lot has changed since that last meeting, a fact Coach Shields highlighted.
“There’s a lot of new faces, we brought in 50 new faces,” said Shields, who while in his first season leading the Beavers is starting his ninth season as a collegiate head coach. “It’s been highly competitive through training camp.”
And Beaver fans should expect to see that intense competition on the field at Herb Parker Stadium against the Mustangs Thursday night – a special evening with free admission for fans for “Defend the Herb” night. The first 1,000 fans through the gate also get a free t-shirt, and following the game there will be a fireworks spectacular.
“I think they’ll see a team that plays with tremendous effort, we’re an effort-based program,” Shields said of what fans can expect. “I think they’ll see us flying around being excited to play.
“I think they’ll see a resilient group that will hang in there regardless of what that scoreboard looks like,” he added. “… I know they’re going to play hard until the final whistle.”
Key returners for Minot State
All-American senior defensive back Knylen Miller-Levi returns to help anchor the secondary for the Beavers after setting an NCAA Division II single-season school record with six interceptions last fall. With 10 career picks, he is third all-time at Minot State and can break the all-time record of 15 with another stellar ball-hawking season.
He’s just one of the standout defensive leaders back for Minot State, which also returns junior defensive back Isaiah Bigby who has 149 career tackles for the Beavers.
“He’s super mature, he has a bright future ahead of him in this game,” Shields said of the two-time All-NSIC performer. “He’s a special young man, a great leader for our program.”
Also back is junior linebacker Carson Cayko who led Minot State with 86 tackles last season and was second on the team with three quarterback sacks.
While they’ll be key on defense, offensively the Beavers return junior starting center Jake Swirple, an NCAA All-American at heavyweight in wrestling.
“You love building around guys like that,” Shields said.
He’ll lead the way on the line for junior starting quarterback Dawson Macleary and junior running back Evan Lovett.
Macleary completed 170-of-325 passes for 1,700 yards and five touchdowns last season, his first as the full-time starter after coming off the bench as a redshirt-freshman in 2021 three games into the season.
“He’s played a lot of football, savvy veteran,” Shields said, adding, “… elite arm, he can really spin it.”
He’s joined in the backfield by Lovett who is poised to be the Beavers featured back after rushing for 272 yards on 82 carries with three touchdowns in 18 games over the past two seasons.
“He’s really gravitated toward our new style of play, he’s a great fit for us,” Shields said. “He’s a big, physical, downhill back.”
Impact newcomers for the Beavers
With 50 new names on the roster, the variety of potential impact players seems limitless, but Coach Shields did tab a few he hopes will quickly become familiar faces for Minot State fans in redshirt-freshman quarterback Dondrae Fair, who transfers from NCAA Division I FCS school Portland State, and true freshman running back Myles West from Cypress, Texas.
“(Myles)’s kind of in that Evan mold; big, physical back,” Shields said. “210 pounds; he ran a 10.8 (second) hundred meters in high school so he’s got real juice.”
Defensively, Coach Shields highlighted junior linebacker Jack St. Fleur, a transfer who led Saddleback College (Calif.) in tackles last season with 59, and redshirt-sophomore defensive back Myzel Williams, a transfer from NCAA Division I FBS school Georgia Southern who played in 12 games for the Eagles.
Keys for Thursday night
The opener will be the first look for Coach Shields at the competition in the NSIC and so he isn’t focused too much on the Mustangs, who went 4-7 last fall.
The Mustangs also averaged 172.8 yards per game rushing the ball, fourth-best in program history and fourth-best in the NSIC last season, as well.
“We know they’re going to have a bunch of determined competitors over there; we know they’re going to be well coached, offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game,” Minot State’s head man said. “So we’re going to have our hands full, we know that.”
But for the Beavers, the key will be focusing on their own game.
“We always say if we can eliminate S.I.N. – self-inflicted negatives – play hard, take care of the football, we’ll have a chance,” Shields said, adding that the keys to victory early in the season are winning the turnover battle and executing well in the kicking game.
Along with being a special night featuring free t-shirts and fireworks, the evening will also be a homecoming for two of the assistant coaches on the Southwest Minnesota State sideline, Doug Patterson and Zac Cunha.
Patterson is in his second season as the Mustangs offensive coordinator and played four seasons on the offensive line for Minot State (1988-91). He also coached at Bishop Ryan High School for seven seasons.
Cunha is in his first season as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator for the Mustangs. Cunha played six years at Minot State (2012-17) and is the career leader in passing yards with 8,222, in completions with 687, and is No. 2 all-time in passing touchdowns with 52.