Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota (FAM), my weekly column that tours football topics in our state from preps to pros. You can find all the previous FAM columns right here. — Chip
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KiJuan Ware's job title says "interim head football coach" at Macalester but he doesn't view this opportunity as temporary. He's determined to build a winning program.
Besides, Ware is comfortable being unsettled. He served as an assistant coach at 11 colleges in 10 different states in the past 20 years.
Look up "paying your dues" in the dictionary, and there is a photo of Ware with a whistle in his mouth, coaching.
"It's been a journey," he said.
That journey led him to Macalester and a chance to fulfill his dream of becoming a head coach. Athletic director Donnie Brooks promoted Ware from offensive coordinator to interim coach in June after Tony Jennison moved into an administrative role.
Brooks is using the season to evaluate Ware and the program before determining the next step now that Macalester has returned to the MIAC following a 20-year hiatus.
The Scots are 1-4 overall, 0-3 in the MIAC. Brooks said last week that Ware has instilled "an intensity and energy around football and a belief that football at Macalester could be highly competitive and different."
Ware's nomadic career has been extreme even by coaching standards — basically a new stop every other year. Stints at all three divisions — I, II and III — have provided him vast experiences and perspectives.
He has witnessed football at the highest level — one season as a coaching intern at Notre Dame — and at a level that does not offer athletic scholarships. Being an assistant under nearly a dozen head coaches gives him plenty of material to apply in running his own program.
"You learn something from every single person," he said. "What's good, what works, what doesn't work, what you want to improve on. I tried to take something from each head coach I've had the opportunity to work with."
The personal sacrifice in pursuing a career goal isn't always easy. Ware and his wife Michelle met in graduate school and decided that the best plan for them and their daughter Kalyx was to have a "home base" rather than uproot the entire family every few years.
Michelle and Kalyx stayed in South Bend, Ind., which gave them stability while also allowing Michelle to pursue her doctoral degree and work as an academic adviser at Notre Dame.
As Ware moved from school to school, he always had a home base, which he visited anytime the schedule gave him a few days off.
"If you're true to each other and trust the plan that God has in front of you, you ride the wave," Ware said.
Ware majored in mathematics and computer science at Springfield (Mass.) College and later was named a Fulbright Scholar. He taught AP calculus and other advanced math courses in high school before choosing a career shift.
His list of coaching stops includes Georgetown, Dartmouth and Notre Dame.
"The No. 1 objective of going to college is to obtain that degree," he said, noting that football at any level can be used as a "tool to obtain a degree."
Ware is only the second Black football coach in Macalester's history. In 1971, the late Don Hudson became the first Black head football coach at a predominantly white college in the modern era.
Ware said he takes pride in "carrying on a legacy."
"I would love to be a Division I football coach, but the odds are stacked against me being a person of color," he said.
Brooks understands those challenges intimately as a Black athletic director.
"I do believe this is a great opportunity for KiJuan to show to the student-athletes of Macalester and to the communities who will see us play that there are qualified and excellent coaches out there who are people of color," Brooks said. "For me, as an athletic director, what I've seen the challenge is, there's not a whole lot of second chances for folks."
Ware intends to make the most of this chance. He called being back in the MIAC "awesome" and said Macalester is making a commitment to football with different resources, from facilities to staffing and beyond.
"This is a place where we want to make football fun but meaningful," he said.
His family is together again, too. Michelle and Kalyx, now 12, moved to the Twin Cities last October. Michelle was named Director of Academic Support Services for Athletics at St. Thomas in the school's transition to Division I.
"We're here to make this thing go at Macalester," Ware said.
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LOVE OF THE GAME
Seventh season ends too soon
Gustavus quarterback Michael Veldman returned for his seventh season of college football this fall with the idea of making it special. One transfer, two injuries and one season canceled because of COVID-19 made his career feel like a "roller coaster." The former Becker High standout viewed the 2021 season as a gift.
Unfortunately for Veldman, the tough breaks continued. On the first series against Concordia in Week 3, Veldman suffered a Lisfranc injury in his right foot that required season-ending injury.
"The injuries are a big bummer," Veldman said last week, the morning after his surgery. "But even through that, there are still positives that have come out of the previous [injuries]. It's going to take me a little while to figure out the positive in this one."
Veldman guided Becker to the Class 4A championship in 2014 before arriving at North Dakota State in the fall of '15. As a true freshman, he was in the quarterback room with Carson Wentz, the future No. 2 overall NFL draft pick.
Easton Stick, a redshirt freshman that season, took over when Wentz suffered a broken wrist and led NDSU to an 8-0 record. Veldman realized that Stick was the Bison's future at quarterback, so he transferred to Gustavus after one year.
The roller coaster continued:
Game 2 in 2016, he fell awkwardly and broke his right wrist (throwing arm). Season over.
Game 6 in 2017, he hit a defender's helmet after releasing a pass and broke a knuckle on his throwing hand. Season over.
He started every game the next two seasons and was named first-team all-conference after setting passing records. He holds school records for career touchdown passes (87), passing yards (8,751) and single-season passing touchdowns (39). In 2019, he became the only Division III quarterback to throw at least three touchdown passes in all 10 games.
"It was really fun being healthy throughout those seasons," he said. "It felt good having success after being stopped short those previous two."
The 2020 season got shut down completely after the MIAC decided to pause during the pandemic. Veldman elected to return this season as a super senior with "big plans." Those plans looked promising after he threw four touchdown passes in an upset of No. 15 Wartburg in Week 2.
But he injured his foot the next week, and another season ended too soon.
Veldman said he's thankful that he got to play two games and considers his career to have had "more ups than downs." He offered a great perspective when asked to explain his positive outlook.
"In the grand scheme of things, my injuries were not nearly as bad as some sports injuries," he said. "I know there is a sunrise tomorrow and I have a family and a team that loves me. Sometimes when you start feeling alone, those are the big things to fall back on.
"It's much bigger than just me. It's the whole team. Everyone has been grinding the past two years to get to this moment. Me being injured shouldn't stop that attack on what we want to accomplish as a team."
Veldman had hopes of getting invited to an NFL camp, and this latest injury hasn't ended that dream. He plans to use this extra time to refine his body and skills with the goal of being able to showcase himself for NFL scouts at a pro day somewhere. He said the Vikings and Bears already have visited campus to watch him work out.
"I have been given just an influx of love from people around me," he said. "That keeps me going."
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- Greg Joseph: The Vikings kicker bounced back after missing a game-winning field goal in Arizona three weeks ago to drill a 54-yarder at the buzzer to save his team from a major embarrassment.
- Carson Hansen: Lakeville South running back set a program record for career rushing touchdowns — 25 — with three TDs in a win over Prior Lake. His 1,053 yards rushing this season ranks third in the state.
- Brandon Alt: Bemidji State quarterback (Park of Cottage Grove) passed for 354 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Concordia (St. Paul). His TD passes covered 51, 75 and 75 yards.
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He said what?!
"I shouldn't have to explain all this to you. But the plan was — we screwed up a couple plays at the end of the first half this year, right? — so the plan was to run the ball the first play, see how much yards we get, and go from there. If we get a first down, we'll get on the ball and move, but we got like no yards, so that was that." — Mike Zimmer attempting to explain his ultra-conservative, end-of-the-half, sit-on-the-ball approach Sunday.
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Numbers to know
0: Points allowed by the St. Thomas Academy in the first half of six games. The Cadets have scored 110 points before halftime in those games. That 110-0 ratio has helped Dan O'Brien's team start 6-0.
28: Offensive snaps for Vikings rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw on Sunday, which means Darrisaw should be close to replacing Rashod Hill as the starter.
24: Rushing touchdowns for Holy Angels senior Emmett Johnson in six games.
43: Combined carries this season by the Gophers' four remaining running backs who will be asked to do much more now after season-ending injuries to Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts. Potts, out of the hospital now, won't play again this season, coach P.J. Fleck said Monday.
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The Vikings led 13-6 early in the fourth quarter. They had a third-and-4 at their own 34-yard line. Offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak called in a cockamamie trick play hoping to fool the winless Detroit Lions. Alexander Mattison took a direct snap as Kirk Cousins jumped and grabbed air, pretending the ball had been snapped over his head. The Lions weren't fooled. Mattison was tackled behind the line for a loss.
Zimmer/Kubiak nearly caused an embarrassing loss with a game plan straight out of the 1960s. Zimmer showed zero faith in his offense by running out the clock at the end of the first half, even though the Lions had no answer for Justin Jefferson in the first half.
Kubiak repeatedly called running plays on second-and-long, with no real success. They hardly took any deep shots in the passing game.
Playing not to lose with an ultra-conservative game plan is a terrible idea, even against the lowly Lions.
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Grab your popcorn
- Nebraska at Gophers, 11 a.m. Saturday. The Cornhuskers are 3-4 but their four losses are by a total of 21 points. A late fumble cost the Huskers a chance to upset Michigan on Saturday. The Huskers are favored by 3½ points.
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An important 48 hours for …
- The Gophers coaching staff. The loss of Ibrahim and Potts leaves the offense without a proven running back. P.J. Fleck and coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. take pride in having a run-heavy identity, but they might be forced to open things up more in the passing game. Devising a game plan this week (and beyond) becomes more challenging not knowing what their young running backs can handle.
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A FAM FINAL WORD
Fleck did not divulge the exact nature of Potts' injury but his condition required him to be taken by ambulance to a hospital in Indiana where he spent six days. Asked to describe Potts' reaction after being told he will miss the rest of the season, Fleck said, "Obviously he's a competitor [but] I wouldn't sit here and say he's devastated, though, because the seriousness of his injury, we're just thankful he's OK and he is, too."
That should be the main takeaway here. The football component — how his injury affects the offense — is a necessary discussion, but that's secondary to the young man's health. Sending our best wishes to Potts and hopeful that he makes a full recovery.
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Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota. I'll publish this each Monday night on startribune.com, timed to kickoff of "Monday Night Football." And you can also join me on Twitter during the first quarter of MNF as I chat with readers about what I wrote each week.
Chip (@chipscoggins on Twitter)