COLLEGE NOTEBOOK: Mayville State can be a league champion for the first time since 1990
Mayville State football coach Derek Schlieve said it hasn't been tough to get his players to avoid dwelling on the Comets' historical opportunity this weekend in obtaining a conference crown, a claim Mayville hasn't been able to make since 1990.
"To be completely honest, our guys weren't alive the last time that happened," Schlieve said.
The Comets can end that drought Saturday when Mayville visits Valley City State at 1 p.m. in North Star Athletic Association play. A win would give Mayville a share of the title with Jamestown.
Mayville won the North Dakota College Athletic Conference in 1990 with an 8-1 record and a No. 21 ranking in the NAIA national poll. That season, the Comets were idle the final week of the regular season and slipped one position in the final poll, a designation that cost Mayville the final spot in the 1990 NAIA playoffs.
It's a drastic turnaround for the Comets, who have won seven games this season and are riding a five-game winning streak. After all, Mayville won six games in four years from 2007 to 2010.
The improvement started in 2011 with a 5-6 record, followed by another 5-6 mark last year. This year, Mayville is 7-3.
"I think it's been a combination of a couple of years work," Schlieve said. "The staff we have in place now has been together for two years. We laid the ground work. We got the guys to buy into what needs be done, not just on the field, but in the classroom, in the weight room and away from the field. They've stepped up and embraced the responsibility of being a college athlete."
Mayville was even able to overcome a season-ending injury to the team's starting quarterback, junior John Poppe, in the preseason.
In his place, senior Keith Osgood has thrown for 982 yards and five touchdowns and freshman Robbie Strand has also contributed under center with 501 yards and four touchdowns.
The Comets are balanced in the run game, too. Jerril Jenkins leads the way with 716 yards, followed by Dominique Bradley with 487 and Osgood with 455.
Taylor Kunkel has been the team's go-to receiver with 35 catches for 575 yards.
Jenkins is one 10 Mayville players from Miami, a list that includes one of the team's top punt and kick returners -- cornerback Rashad Flanders.
Flanders, who hails from high school football power Miami Northwestern, was featured in a Miami Herald article a few years ago for his decision to leave the big city for the NAIA and the rural life of Mayville. Flanders' Miami Northwestern graduating class included Heisman Trophy hopeful Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback of Louisville.
The Miami Herald is flying to North Dakota this weekend to do a follow-up story on Flanders and his teammates' success.
"We've been very fortunate," Schlieve said. "Our Miami pipeline has treated us well."
Miller reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1121; (800) 477-6572, ext. 121; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.