BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The 93rd season of Bemidji State University football kicks off Monday, August 6 as head coach Brent Bolte begins his third season leading the program. The Beavers open the season at 6 p.m. Thursday, August 30 at Chet Anderson Stadium against Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division opponent Northern State University.
The Beavers have been near the top of the NSIC standings in each of the past three seasons with expectations to continue the streak in 2018. BSU has finished within the top six of the conference standings each season since 2015 and has captured a NSIC North Division title and the program’s first-ever postseason victory, a 36-23 win over Washburn University in the 2016 Mineral Water Bowl.
BSU has accomplished feats over the past three seasons that include:
- Most wins (24) over three season span since 2004-06
- Top ranked Minnesota recruiting class among NSIC programs in 2018 (Northstar Football News)
- Finished top two in NSIC North Division each of the last three seasons, including NSIC North title in 2015
- Entered 2017 ranked 25 in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II Coaches’ Poll
- Ranked in AFCA Top 25 Poll during past two seasons
- Reached highest ranking (17) ever in D2Football.com Preseason Media Poll to start 2017
- Earned first-ever postseason victory (Mineral Water Bowl) against Washburn in 2016
- Beat No. 6 Minnesota State, 45-17, on the road in 2016 to tie highest ranked team ever beaten by BSU
- 15 single-season program records broken in 2016
- Winning streaks of at least 5 games in 2015 and 2017
For the first time since 2013, the Beavers offense will be guided by someone other than Jordan Hein, which leaves a quarterback battle heading into fall camp. Junior quarterback Jared Henning leads all returning signal-callers with 19 games played compared to three freshmen, including redshirt-freshman Brandon Alt, who have yet to step on the field for a game.
The receiving corps is led by junior wide receiver Jake Anderson who ranked third on the 2017 squad with 21 receptions for 342 yards and five touchdowns. His five receiving scores tied with junior wide receiver Blair Van Ess for the team lead. Van Ess totaled 14 catches for 282 yards, averaging 20.1 yards per reception.
Senior running back Andrew Lackowski returns in 2018 as the team’s leading rusher and finished last season as the third-leading rusher in the NSIC. Lackowski also ranked fifth on BSU in receptions in 2017 with 19 catches for 247 yards and four touchdowns. He will look to top his 959 rushing yards last season as the Beavers’ top three rushers from last season have graduated from the program. Also returning in the BSU backfield is redshirt-freshman Jalen Frye, while junior transfer DeRante Sanders will also vie for playing time.
The offensive line is anchored by three returners including senior center Parker Blakeslee and junior guards Nicholas Niemi and Joe Woods. The trio helped BSU average 35.3 points and 202.5 rushing yards per game to rank third in the conference in each category. The offense’s 396.5 total yards per game finished fourth among NSIC programs. Both tackle positions will feature battles for the starting positions.
The “Gang Green” defense features ball-hawking All-NSIC members including seniors Gunner Olszewski and John Vogeler. Vogeler totaled five interceptions in 2017 with three touchdown returns, which set the BSU career and single-season record mark. Olszewski ranks tied for seventh all-time at BSU with 10 career interceptions. Junior defensive back Michael Junker will also be primed for an impactful season after recording 44 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions last season.
The linebacking corps is led by All-NSIC member Gabe Ames who finished his first season with 40 tackles, 5.0 tackles for a loss of 23 yards, 0.5 sacks, one interception returned for a touchdown and one forced fumble. He led all returning linebackers in tackles last season, followed by senior Justin Van Houtan with 19 tackles, 4.0 tackles for a loss of 25 yards and 2.5 sacks. Seniors Andre Chisley Jr., and Vamougne Kanneh, and junior Cole Schmitz will battle as the leading returners in the inside linebacker positions.
Senior Dylan Ellingson will set the pace on the defensive line after leading all D-line returners with 52 tackles and 3.0 sacks. Coming off the edge will include senior Jeff Harris, who recorded 16 tackles, 5.0 tackles for a loss and 2.0 sacks, and senior Alex Hoffman, who recorded 28 tackles, 4.0 tackles for a loss and 2.0 sacks in 2017. Sophomore Josh Wleh will also help anchor the defensive line at the nose tackle position after playing in six games last season.
BSU returns its all-time leader in field goals in senior kicker Isaac Aanerud. He set the program’s single-season record with 15 field goals last season, which ranked fifth in the NSIC, and paces the all-time field goals record with 30 since 2014. Aanerud went 8-for-8 on field goals from the 30-39-yard range and tied a personal-best 50-yard field goal last season.
Olszewski returns as the third-leading punt returner in program history after totaling 168 yards in 2017 and 277 in 2016. He will team up with senior Ryan Kinard, senior Austin Contreras and sophomore Mannie Kugmeh to handle kickoff return duties.
The schedule will begin with matchups against NSIC North Division opponents for the first time since the conference split into divisions in 2011. Bemidji State opens the 2018 slate at 6 p.m. Thursday, August 30 against Northern State before hitting the road for the first time at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 at University of Mary.
The only two programs, Bemidji State and University of Minnesota Duluth, to finish in the top two spots of the NSIC North Division over the past three seasons will play Saturday, Sept. 22 in Duluth, Minn.
BSU’s home schedule will face tests against University of Sioux Falls and Minnesota State University, Mankato, who each finished the 2017 season ranked among the AFCA Top 25 Poll. The Beavers and Cougars face-off Saturday, Oct. 6 in BSU’s homecoming game in Bemidji, Minn. The Mavericks enter Chet Anderson Stadium Saturday, Oct. 20 after finishing the 2017 regular season No. 1 in the AFCA Top 25 Poll.
Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).