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UND takes ‘new mindset’ into season opener against Mississippi Valley State

UND coach Bubba Schweigert addresses his team at Wednesday's practice. UND opens the football season Thursday night against Mississippi Valley State. Photo/Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

The UND football team gets to officially turn the page tonight.

After a disappointing 3-8 season in 2017, the Fighting Hawks are ready to start anew in 2018.

UND’s hopes for a rebound season start with a 6:30 p.m. matchup with Mississippi Valley State at the Alerus Center.

Wide receiver Travis Toivonen and running back James Johannesson used similar phrases to summarize the team’s feelings heading into the opener.

“I think we have a new mindset,” Toivonen said.

“We have a new mindset,” Johannesson said.

The fresh beginning is a welcomed development for the Hawks, who have had to endure questions about an injury-riddled letdown a year ago.

Under fifth-year coach Bubba Schweigert, UND finished seasons 5-7 (2014), 7-4 (2015) and 9-3 (2016) before last year’s three-win season.

“I don’t think we’re affected by last year,” said Toivonen, a junior and three-year starter from Red Wing, Minn. “We’re going to do what we do best and do what we’ve been working on all summer and fall.”

The turnaround starts with a healthier lineup, which sees the return of starting cornerback and All-American Deion Harris, as well as starting inside linebackers Donnell Rodgers and Noah Larson.

UND will be quarterbacked by a new face, as well, with Sacramento State transfer Nate Ketteringham winning the job in fall camp.

At least two true freshmen are also expected to have redshirts pulled in the opener in starting wide receiver Garett Maag and backup cornerback Jacob Odom.

In the first year of the new rule, true freshmen are allowed to play in up to four games without having to use a redshirt season, so the potential for even more first-year players is a possibility.

As for familiar faces, UND returns all-conference running backs John Santiago and Brady Oliveira.

“I think, as a team, last year wasn’t what we wanted,” said Johannesson, a 245-pound junior running back from Fargo. “I think we’ve moved on from then. We don’t like to talk about it but everyone knows in the back of their head we don’t want that. Everyone is stepping up.”

UND enters the matchup as a more than 40-point favorite. MVSU, based in the small town of Itta Bena, Miss., went 2-9 last season and 1-6 in the SWAC East.

“We’re really focused on us,” Toivonen said. “We’ve watched the film on them, but we’re going to control our effort and our focus and the results will take care of themselves.”

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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