UND led the Missouri Valley Football Conference in offense during the 2021 spring season, averaging more than 30 points per league game.
Led by the steady hand of quarterback Tommy Schuster, the explosiveness of All-American running back Otis Weah and the creative playcalling of offensive coordinator Danny Freund, the Fighting Hawks turned offense into a strength en route to reaching the FCS quarterfinals for the first time.
That success on offense made it easy, at times, to forget that UND was missing one of its best offensive players.
Brock Boltmann, UND's do-it-all threat who scored passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in 2019, was injured before the season opener and never played a single down in the 2021 spring.
The Fighting Hawks initially thought they'd get the former Edina (Minn.) High star back sometime during the spring. They even brought Boltmann on road trips to Western Illinois on March 13 and North Dakota State on March 20. Despite going through warmups in Macomb, Ill., and in Fargo, Boltmann didn't play.
"We felt the injury was just a different type early on and he could come back from it this spring," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said at his season-ending press conference Monday. "We had him test it out, and he really didn't feel he could compete at a high level. Then, the next week, we did the same thing and made the decision that we should shut him down and slow down the rehab so it's done properly."
Now, the target is to have Boltmann ready for the fall season opener Sept. 4 against Idaho State.
"The good news is after meeting with him last week, he felt better than he ever did in the spring," Schweigert said. "Now, I think we'll see the real rehab and do it at the proper pace."
Boltmann was one of UND's most dynamic players during the 2019 season.
The high school quarterback was often used in a wildcat formation and defenses had to account for him in all sorts of situations.
He had five carries of 15-plus yards, including a 56-yard touchdown against Sam Houston State, which will play for the national title Sunday. He caught 30 passes in the final eight weeks of the season, including touchdowns against UC Davis and Idaho State. He threw for a touchdown against Montana State, while averaging 22.3 yards on kickoff returns.
"No doubt he's a playmaker for us and we missed him this spring," Schweigert said. "He adds a lot to our team. We'll shoot for fall camp to practice at a high level and be ready to help our football team on Sept. 4.
"We probably rushed it a little in the spring, and we probably needed to be more patient. That's where we were after he couldn't do it those first two weeks, we decided he wouldn't be with us in the spring. We slowed that down, and now he's feeling much better physically."
Despite not having Boltmann in the spring, Freund's offense remained creative. He used backup quarterback Quincy Vaughn in the wildcat formation with some success. Vaughn averaged 5.2 yards per carry, scored at James Madison, and threw for a touchdown against South Dakota.
But Freund's options for creative play calls will open up even more with Boltmann.
"We missed him this spring," Freund said. "Brock is a difference-maker and a guy that can create. You saw that with Otis, who's one of those guys who, when you draw up a play and it doesn't work, players like that are special and can make it work with their ability.
"We need to continue to recruit guys like that and develop guys like that, and I think Brock will be a key part of what we do this fall. I think he'll be 100 percent this summer and building that confidence to get him back out there this fall and be with the guys."
Belquist timeline TBD
UND's coaches said they expect wide receiver Bo Belquist to be back in the fall, though it might not be for the season opener.
Belquist, who tied Garrett Maag for a team-high 25 catches in the spring season, suffered a broken leg during UND's playoff victory over Missouri State. Belquist had surgery on his leg.
"There's some uncertainty there with the timeframe and how quickly he bounces back," UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund said. "We expect him to be ready to go, whether it's the first game of the fall or the third or fourth. But the way he competes and attacks things, I think the timeframe would be earlier just knowing the competitor and type of kid he is. At the same time, when you have one of those deals, it's not the easiest when you're an explosive guy. What Bo brought to the table this spring was impressive."