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UND FOOTBALL: UND opens its season Thursday against Valparaiso

As a high school junior, Ryan Bartels made the five-minute jaunt from his home to watch UND play Northern Illinois during the 2010 season. "It was kind of surreal because I remember the game like it was yesterday," said Bartels. "UND should have won.

Ryan Bartels
Redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Bartels (center) passes the ball off during practice drills at the first UND practice of the seaon saturday morning at Memorial Stadium. Coaches have yet to announce a starting quarterback for the 2013 season. photo by Jenna Watson/Grand Forks Herald

As a high school junior, Ryan Bartels made the five-minute jaunt from his home to watch UND play Northern Illinois during the 2010 season.

"It was kind of surreal because I remember the game like it was yesterday," said Bartels. "UND should have won. Then, couple of months down the road, North Dakota started to recruit me. I started to figure out what this place is all about; the people who are here; the tradition that exists here and the type of football that's played here."

Thursday, Bartels hopes to add to UND's tradition as North Dakota opens its 2013 season against Valparaiso at the Alerus Center.

UND enters one of its more highly anticipated seasons as North Dakota plays seven of its 11 games at home and has a year's worth of experience in the competitive Big Sky Conference.

But first things first.


Valparaiso won't be favored as the Crusaders, who play in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, finished 1-10 last season and have won only three games in the past four seasons.

Bartels will start at quarterback as the redshirt freshman from Sycamore, Ill., beat out another redshirt freshman, Joe Mollberg, during a highly competitive fall camp between the two.

That means UND enters the season with a quarterback that hasn't taken a snap at the collegiate level. Regardless, the two quarterbacks have drawn praise for their performances during fall camp.

"All of our young quarterbacks did an amazing job in fall camp," said senior running back Jake Miller. "It's hard to come in during your first year and perform well. But they've all done a good job in the huddle. They throw with accuracy. They're smart. And they can move."

Bartels said he'll have the normal first-game jitters. "I'll have some butterflies in my stomach but as soon as the ball is snapped, it'll be just like another day at practice."

UND coach Chris Mussman said the decision to name Bartels as the starting quarterback was difficult.

"We chartered everything between the two, every completion, incompletion, interception, fumble, fumbled snap; you name it.

"These two kids were evaluated on everything they did from spring ball through yesterday. Ryan held a slight edge in the percentages. As we sat down as a staff and talked about it, we thought Ryan had the slight edge."


However, both Bartels and Mollberg will play Thursday. Mollberg, a former Detroit Lakes, Minn., standout, likely will see playing time in the first half. The flow of the game likely will dictate how much time both will see.

"Joe is going to play; he's a good quarterback; a good athlete," said Mussman. "This is far from over. Unfortunately for us, we have a quarterback controversy. Fortunately for us, we have two good quarterbacks. Down the road, these guys are going to be special. We have to develop both of these guys."

Blair Townsend, one of the senior captains, said he has no reservations with Bartels taking the first snap of the season.

"Ryan has come a long way," he said. "He really came into his own in fall camp. You can feel the confidence in his voice. He commands the huddle. He's a freshman but he's telling the seniors to get it going. Everyone is falling in line with that."

A tough road

Valparaiso, located in northwest Indiana, is known more for basketball than its football program.

The Crusaders were 1-10 last season and have won only three games during the past three seasons -- two against fellow Pioneer League member Campbell and the other against Division III Concordia of Wisconsin.

Valpo returns its top offensive and defensive players from last season.


Sophomore running back Jack Hutson was third in the Pioneer League in rushing with 753 yards. He also had 35 receptions for 266 yards.

Senior safety Alex Grask led Valpo with 113 tackles last season, which ranked fourth in the league.

Some history

UND quarterbacks coach Danny Freund knows a little about Valpo.

As a youngster, Freund used to serve as a ball boy during Valpo games. He grew up in Kenosha, Wis., only two hours from the Valparaiso campus.

Freund was a UND quarterback from 2006 to 2008.

In UND's 2007 playoff game at Grand Valley State, Freund started every game during the regular season before breaking his collarbone.

That's why all through fall camp Mussman has said it's crucial to develop quarterback depth.


Odds and ends

Three true freshmen are expected to play Thursday. They are fullback Dustin Iverson, strong safety Cam Kuksa and punter Mitch Meindel. Mussman said it's possible one or two more redshirts may be lifted, with those players seeing time on special teams. In the past three seasons, four UND players have seen the field as true freshmen -- receivers R.J. McGill and Kenny Golladay and running backs Jake Miller and Jer Garman ... UND played another Pioneer League team -- Drake -- to open the 2011 season ... UND is 5-0 in games played in August ... UND has won 23 straight home openers.

Tomorrow's game

Who: Valparaiso at UND.

When: 7, Alerus Center.

TV/radio: Midco Sports (GF, Channel 27); The Fox (96.1 FM).

Records: UND 0-0; Valparaiso 0-0.

Of note: The teams played each other in 1920, with Valpo winning 20-10.


Nelson reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1268; or send e-mail to wnelson@gfherald.com .

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.

He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.

He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.

Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or wnelson@gfherald.com.
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