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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Scott Underwood lost his job as football coach in 2019, not by choice or because he had done a poor job, but as a victim of circumstance when St. Cloud State decided to drop its football program.
Underwood had a successful run at the school with 10 winning seasons, an 86-51 record and three NCAA playoff appearances in 12 seasons.
The timing was hardly ideal for starting a job search. The news came before the start of the pandemic, meaning the normal yearly coaching turnover took a pause.
Underwood stood pat, too. He still had two years left on his contract, so he moved into an administrative role in St. Cloud State's athletic department.
Since he suddenly had more free time, he got to watch his son Brady play at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the first time Underwood went to a college football game in a non-coaching capacity since he broke into the business in 1988.
"It was pretty interesting and great for my family," Underwood said. "It was a different feeling, obviously."
His desire to coach never left and when Southwest Minnesota State went looking for a new leader after last season, Underwood found a new home in the same conference where he'd spent a dozen years with St. Cloud State.
He is back winning again, too.
The Mustangs already have doubled their win total from last season as Underwood became the first coach in program history (11 head coaches) to start his coaching tenure 4-1.
Saturday's 47-7 rout of Upper Iowa gave SMSU its first four-game winning streak since 2015.
Underwood inherited a team that lost the final six games in a 2-9 season, prompting Cory Sauter's departure as head coach. The school hired Underwood in early January, essentially costing him a recruiting class.
The roster is smaller than he'd like in terms of numbers, but Underwood's ties to the NSIC and Upper Midwest recruiting base have made the transition smooth.
"We're trying to build our talent pool and build our numbers within that," he said.
The fast start provides tangible proof when he makes his recruiting sales pitch. The Mustangs rank 10th nationally in Division II in rushing offense, fueled by Jesse Sherwood, an Armstrong High product who is fourth nationally in rushing.
The familiar "nervous energy" of being on the sideline on game day returned for Underwood in the season opener at Minnesota-Duluth. He missed that feeling. The Mustangs lost the game, but Underwood liked what he witnessed in the 31-21 defeat.
"It was a good experience," he said. "The kids played just as hard as they could play."
The Mustangs have not lost since, and they will take that winning streak to Sioux Falls on Saturday to play the NSIC's only remaining undefeated team.
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Call this guy Mr. Versatility
Gustavus senior Zach Jakes' primary position is defensive tackle, though he also plays defensive end at times. He won the MIAC's Mike Stam Award last season as the lineman of the year. He is second on the team in tackles this season, including a team-high 7.5 tackles for loss.
Of course, you also might see him playing fullback in short-yardage situations. And depending on circumstances, he could line up at offensive tackle.
All in the same game.
"Wherever is needed," he said.
Jakes is so versatile and adaptable that Gustavus' coaching staff spends part of each week discussing how to use him without getting carried away.
"It's managing how we use him so we don't overuse him," coach Peter Haugen said.
Haugen said Jakes' role is not "completely prescribed" but instead based on game situation, something that is "fluid."
"We knew early that he's a young man who has a lot of versatility and skill sets," Haugen said.
Jakes meets with offensive coaches each week to familiarize himself with the game plan and get a sense of how and when he might be used. That's in addition to regular meetings and film study with his defensive coaches.
"It goes back to time management," he said. "The coaches have given me the resources to do that."
He has become an expert on the subject. Jakes juggles school, football and for the past few years, coaching high school wrestling.
A state champion heavyweight at Mankato West, Jakes considered continuing his wrestling career in college after taking an official visit to Nebraska.
He opted to follow the path of his older brothers Tyler and Evan and play football at Gustavus.
Jakes hasn't completely given up wrestling. He serves as assistant varsity wrestling coach at New Ulm after previously working with the Mankato West team.
Once football season ends, Jakes arranges his daily schedule to accommodate coaching. He has workouts in the morning, classes throughout the day and then wrestling practice at New Ulm in the evening.
Jakes chose football over wrestling in college largely because of the brotherhood ingrained in the sport.
"I achieved the ultimate goal of being a state champion and had a great career that I'm proud of," he said. "I just really enjoyed the team aspect of football and having the ability to contribute to a team."
And contribute at multiple positions.
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Gophers collective a smart move
Gophers athletics forged an important, and necessary, association with a name, image and likeness (NIL) collective called Dinkytown Athletes that officially launched last week.
The collective will facilitate NIL deals for Gophers athletes in all sports, which has become an essential component in the college sports arms race. Collectives have become recruiting tools for coaches, and any school that does not have a third-party collective assisting athletes in NIL opportunities is falling behind in the race.
I have written about the importance of collectives since NIL became legal. In short: Collectives are not luxuries, they are requisites.
"It seems like in my lifetime when there are these shift changes, Minnesota tends to be behind," said Dinkytown Athletes co-founder Derek Burns, who played football for the Gophers from 1997-2001. "We wait until everybody else has figured it out and then it's hurting us and then we decide to do something. I'm proud to say that's not the case this time."
Collectives rely on financial support from boosters and businesses. The collective oversees appearances and marketing/sponsorship for athletes. They act independently of the athletic department, and yet athletic programs would face serious repercussions without collectives.
Dinkytown Athletes is working with 59 Gophers athletes so far, including football players John Michael Schmitz, Brevyn Spann-Ford, Justin Walley and Tyler Nubin.
"If it's done right," Burns said, "NIL can be a vehicle to raise the visibility and awareness of the athletes and the programs themselves in a really crowded sports market."
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- Matt Daniels: Vikings special teams coordinator tipped the scales in a win over the New Orleans Saints with superb plans and execution by his units. The fake punt pass conversion by Ryan Wright was a nice touch.
- Landyn Nelson: Andover quarterback accounted for six TDs (five passing, one rushing) while also kicking a 30-yard field goal and making all seven extra-point attempts.
- Aaron Syverson: St. John's quarterback set career highs in passing yards (360) and passing touchdowns (five) in 35-28 victory over Concordia (Moorhead) to become the third Johnnies QB to reach 300 passing yards in three consecutive games.
- Grant Miley: East Ridge junior safety grabbed three interceptions in a win over crosstown rival Woodbury.
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He said what?!
"You recover right before the next game. Then you just beat the heck out of yourself again." — Rosemount defensive lineman Hayden Bills after the Irish completed a three-game sweep of physical conference foes Lakeville North, Eden Prairie and Lakeville South.
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Numbers to know
- 69.8: Opposing quarterback's completion percentage against the Vikings pass defense, third highest in the NFL.
- 47: Rushing yards by Gophers in their loss to Purdue, the lowest rushing output in P.J. Fleck's 63 games as Gophers coach.
- 18.2: Yards per carry for Chatfield senior Sam Backer, who has rushed for 1,205 yards, including 351 last week.
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Two game-management decisions by P.J. Fleck and Kevin O'Connell this weekend left me scratching my head.
First, Fleck elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29 with his team trailing 7-0 in the first quarter. I thought the decision was too risky, especially with star running back Mo Ibrahim sidelined because of injury, and the play call was predictable once they sent in Wildcat quarterback Cole Kramer. The offensive line got shoved backward, causing Kramer to get stuffed for no gain.
O'Connell went ultraconservative at the end of the first half with a chance to build a double-digit halftime lead. A fumble recovery gave the Vikings the ball at the Saints' 20 with just under a minute left. Justin Jefferson got tackled for no gain on a catch with 50 seconds left. O'Connell had three timeouts but decided to let the clock run down to 22 seconds. The Vikings ended up settling for a field goal and a 13-7 lead. O'Connell has vowed to be aggressive, but that situation showed the exact opposite.
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Grab your popcorn
Caledonia at Chatfield, 7 p.m. Friday. Both teams are undefeated. Chatfield is ranked No. 1 in Class 2A. Caledonia is No. 3. Caledonia is back to its winning ways after having its 71-game winning streak snapped last season and then suffering a 30-0 loss to Chatfield. The Warriors will have their hands full with Chatfield's Sam Backer, a Minnesota State Mankato commit who has rushed for 15 touchdowns in five games.
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An important 48 hours for …
Lewis Cine. The Vikings rookie safety got dealt an unfortunate hand when he suffered a compound leg fracture on Sunday. The team announced that Cine will have surgery Tuesday in London and then return to Minnesota when it is safe for him to travel. Best wishes to Cine on a successful recovery.
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A FAM FINAL WORD
The Gophers offensive line had been rock solid in dominating the line of scrimmage this season until Saturday's outing. Purdue's defensive front smothered the running game and made quarterback Tanner Morgan erratic throwing the ball under pressure. It was a textbook example of what can happen to an offense when it doesn't win the matchup at the line.
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Thank you for reading Football Across Minnesota. I'll publish this each Tuesday morning in time for your lunch-hour reading. I appreciate feedback so please reach out anytime.
Chip (@chipscoggins on Twitter)