2021 Football Season Preview

Posted on September 2nd, 2021 by

2021 Gustavus football (photo courtesy of SPX Sports)

SAINT PETER, Minn. – Gustavus football is back in action this Saturday and the level of excitement could not be greater. Not only because the Gusties have not played a game since 2019, but also the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s new 10-team, two-division alignment with a true Week 10 conference championship game.

The Golden Gusties open their 2021 campaign at 6 p.m. Saturday at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Gustavus is coming off a 2019 season where it posted a 7-3 overall record and finished fourth in the MIAC at 5-3, while the Beavers went 3-7 overall and 1-7 in the American Rivers Conference for seventh place.

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“It’s just great to be back playing football,” said Head Coach Peter Haugen, who is in his 13th season at the helm. “We’ve had a great camp and now we’re into game week with a lot of excitement as we get ready for Buena Vista.”

Here’s a look at the 2021 Gusties by position group:

Quarterbacks

Key losses: none

Players to watch: Michael Veldman (Sr., Becker) and Jake Breitbach (So., Golden Valley)

Notes:

  • Michael Veldman

    Veldman was the only Division III quarterback to throw at least three touchdown passes in all 10 games of the 2019 season. He finished the year 219-of-319 (68.7 percent) with 39 touchdowns, ranking first in the MIAC and third in the nation, and set a new Gustavus single season record. Veldman’s 68.7-completion percentage is the top single-season mark in program history, while his 185.4 passing efficiency was best in the MIAC and fifth in the nation. He was responsible for 280 points, the second most in Division III, leading the Gusties to a program-record 448 total points. His 3,188 passing yards were fourth in the nation. In 29 career games at Gustavus, Veldman ranks first in touchdowns with 78, third in pass yards with 8,084, and third in completions with 584.

  • Velman needs 327 yards to pass Mitch Hendricks (2013-15) for second on Gustavus’ all-time passing yards list and 414 yards to dethrone Jordan Stolp (2004-07) as the record holder
  • Veldman is the program record holder for career passing touchdowns (78)
  • Veldman needs 114 more completions to pass Stolp for second in the program record book and 117 more to pass Hendricks for the record
  • Veldman’s 63.9 career completion percentage ranks third behind Sean Smith (2000-03) at 64.1 and Hendicks at 65.6
  • Veldman is entering his sixth season of collegiate football. He was a redshirt freshman at North Dakota State in 2015, practicing in a position group with current NFL quarterback Carson Wentz. After transferring to Gustavus, he was injured in the second game of the 2016 season (medical redshirt), and injured again in the fifth game of the 2017 season (medical redshirt). He played in all 10 games of both the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Coach Haugen’s comments: “The quarterback group has a lot of experience itself along with the supporting case in the offensive line and running back unit. Michael has played a lot in our offense and is very comfortable with it.”

Running Backs

Key losses: none

David Peal

Players to watch: David Peal (Sr., Worcester, Mass.) and Rohee Konde (So., Hopkins)

Notes:

  • Peal is the team’s top returning rusher. He led the team in 2019 with 128 carries for 659 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 65.9 yards per game.
  • Konde will see his first action on the field after not having a season last year

Coach’s comment: “David has established himself as one of the top backs in our league with Rohee Konde behind him and a couple other guys as well. David has done a great job of leading that group.”

Offensive Line

Key loss: Blake Sikes (started the last 29 games at left guard, dating back to the second game of the 2017 season)

Players to watch: Tommy Bigaouette (Sr., North Mankato), Gunnar Johnson (Sr., St. Cloud), and Sam Stafsholt (Jr., Andover)

Notes:

  • The Gusties return three starters from 2019 in Bigaouette at left tackle, Johnson at right tackle, and Stafsholt at right guard
  • Mitchell Borchardt (Sr., Le Sueur) will start at center and Zach Claassen (Jr., White Bear Lake) at left guard, who both saw playing time in 2019
  • The offensive line helped produce a program-record 448 total points in 2019

Coach’s comment: “They are an experienced group. Both tackles are seniors with Mitchell Borchardt at center. Stafsholt, Claassen and Joe Fortwengler (Sr., New Ulm) all have experience, too. There’s six guys there that we really believe in.”

Tight Ends/Fullbacks

Key loss: Brayton Finch (All-America honorable mention, All-West Region, All-Conference)

Players to watch: Hunter O’Bert (Sr., Eden Prairie) and Ethan Sindelir (Sr., Wells)

Notes:

  • Big shoes to fill with the loss of Finch, who accounted for 48 catches, 476 yards and seven touchdowns
  • O’Bert played in eight games in 2019 with three catches for 77 yards and one rushing touchdown
  • Sindelir played in eight games as well with six catches for 39 yards and four touchdowns

Coach’s comment: “They come back with a lot of experience. Hunter O’Bert and Ethan Sindelir played a lot of football for us, they’ve seen a lot of snaps.”

Receivers

Key losses: Brice Panning (CoSIDA Academic All-America, All-West Region, All-Conference) and Josh Kirk (All-Conference)

Brady Essig

Players to watch: Brady Essig (Sr., Dodge Center), Carter Kopet (Sr., Cleveland), Matthew Kipper (So., Bloomington), and Dalton Thelen (Sr., Cold Spring)

Notes:

  • Lost to graduation, Panning and Kirk were the top two receivers in 2019, combining for 138 catches for 2,264 yards, and 26 touchdowns, averaging 226.4 yards per game
  • Thelen makes the move from running back to receiver after accounting for 339 rushing yards, 174 receiving yards, and two total touchdowns in 2019. He is the top returning receiver after making 19 catches last season
  • Essig has the second most experience after making 10 catches for 99 yards last season

Coach’s comment: “Our receivers are a talented group right now. Essig and Thelen coming back with experience and then Kipper who is a transfer to us from Minnesota State-Mankato. That group of three is our top group. And then there are six guys behind that group who are also talented. Excited to see how they come along. Kopet comes back after sustaining some injuries, and a couple young guys in the mix. Brett Hufendick (Sr., Edina) now moved from quarterback to receiver and of course Anthony Massman (Sr., Sauk Rapids) coming back. A lot of depth and a lot of competition.”

Defensive Line

Key loss: Zeke Erickson (25 tackles, 5.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks in 2019)

Sam Jones and Zach Jakes

Players to watch: Zach Jakes (Sr., North Mankato) and Sam Jones (Sr., Jacksonville, Fla.)

Notes:

  • Jakes led all defensive linemen in the MIAC in 2019 with 53 tackles. He also led the Gusties with a team-best 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks
  • Jones made 22 tackles in 2019 with 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks

Coach’s comment: “Zach Jakes and Sam Jones, that’s an incredible place to start. You mix into that Andrew Bradley (Sr., Miami, Fla.), who has played a lot of football for us. We’ve got eight guys on that defensive line that we really like and the fourth guy in there is Braden Black (So., Rochester). We play a lot of defensive linemen so there will be eight guys that get a lot of play there.”

Linebackers

Key loss: Jake Boykin (team-leading 61 tackles in 2019)

Players to watch: Nicolas Negron (Sr., Dallas, Texas), Isaak Knutson (Jr., Dodge Center), and Carson Dekam (So., Owatonna)

Notes:

  • Negron posted 18 tackles in nine games in 2019, including one recovered fumble
  • Dekam will make his first start at middle linebacker after not having a season last year

Coach’s comment: “Nicolas Negron is the most experienced in that group and then some younger guys behind him. With Dekam and Knutson on the outside, and the guys behind them, we feel really good about them, too. There’s a mix of experience and young talent.”

Defensive Backs

Key loss: Jake Krull (48 tackles in 2019 with an interception and fumble recovery)

Kaleb Scott

Players to watch: Kaleb Scott (Sr., Los Angeles, Calif.), Ezekiel Sundberg (Sr., Lakewood, Colo.), and Austin Fest (Sr., West Des Moines, Iowa)

Notes:

  • Scott is the top returning defensive back after an All-Conference 2019 season where he made 27 tackles, three interceptions, broke up nine passes, and blocked a punt. Scott was targeted 26 times in 2019, allowing just six completions for 59 yards over nine games
  • Sundberg returns as a starter at strong safety and Fest returns as the starter at free safety

Coach’s comment: “Kaleb Scott, Austin Fest, Ezekiel Sundberg, those three guys have played a lot of snaps. At the other corner we’ll be younger but talented. Even at the safety position we feel two-deep that we’re going to be strong because that second group is Graham Nistler (Sr., St. Cloud) and Payton Simon (Jr., Blooming Prairie) and those guys are really sharp.”

Specialists

Key losses: none

Andrew Abegglen

Players to watch: Thelen, Essig, Andrew Abegglen (Jr., Mound), and Fortwengler

Notes:

  • Thelen is back as the starting kick returner after leading the squad in 2019 with 10 kickoff returns for 165 yards
  • Essig makes the move from kick return to punt return after accumulating nine returns for 202 yards in 2019
  • Abegglen returns as the placekicker and will also handle kickoff duties. In 2019, he went 41-44 on extra points and 1-2 on field goals
  • Fortwengler averaged 34.9 yards per punt with 19 punts, a long of 49 yards, and three down inside the 20 last season

Coach’s comment: “Andrew Abegglen comes back and he’s got a big leg, so we’re excited about his continued development. He really came on as the season went along in 2019. And Joe Fortwengler will punt for us to begin with. We got some young punters behind him that are doing some great things. It’s a talented group.”

General notes:

  • The Gusties finished the 2019 season 7-3 overall and 5-3 in the MIAC for fourth place. Two of their three losses were against nationally ranked teams in then-No. 4 Saint John’s and then-No. 13 Bethel. St. Thomas was the third loss, which has now made the jump to Division I.
  • The season opener at Buena Vista will be the second meeting in program history against the Beavers. BVU won the first meeting 37-34 in double overtime on Sept. 6, 2003 in Storm Lake, Iowa.
  • The Sept. 11 home opener against Wartburg will be the third meeting in program history against the Knights. Wartburg leads the series 2-0 and won the last matchup 26-21 on Sept. 10, 2011 in Waverly, Iowa.
  • The Oct. 9 game at St. Scholastica will be the first meeting in program history against the Saints. The game will be a MIAC Northwoods Division matchup. The Northwoods Division consists of Gustavus, Saint John’s, St. Scholastica, St. Olaf, and Carleton. The Skyline Division consists of Bethel, Concordia, Hamline, Augsburg, and Macalester.
  • MIAC teams will play an eight-game conference schedule with four “in-division” games and three “crossover” games, plus one “playoff” contest. The final week of the regular season will function as “Championship Week.” Teams will be ranked 1-5 in each division based on the results of in-division. Each team will then match up with the corresponding seed in the other division for a “playoff” game and the winner of the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game will receive the MIAC’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Playoffs.

Coach’s comment: “To have 10 teams and two divisions, and that Week 10 being a crossover championship, I think there’s a lot of excitement around that.”

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