It was a decisively wintry scene Monday at Herb Parker Stadium, where the Minot State University football team held its first spring practice.
With temperatures in the 20s and snow piled as high as seven feet ringing the turf field, the Beavers participated in a helmets-only workout that lasted a little more than two hours. Players worked on techniques by position group and matched up offense versus defense for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
"It's great to be back out here," MSU linebacker Chad Marshall said. "This is what you work for from the time that last game's done. It's great to be back out here playing football and not just in the weight room and running."
Minot State University quarterback Zac Cunha tosses a pass to a receiver during the Beavers’ first spring practice Monday at Herb Parker Stadium.
The Beavers finished 3-8 in 2012, their first season in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The team returns several playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, including top two tacklers Casey Weinmann (83) and Marshall (79).
Offensively, MSU returns quarterback Zac Cunha and his top three receivers from last season - wideouts Glyn Borel, Wayne Peters and Porter Sturm.
With the biggest losses coming on the offensive line, including the graduation of all-NSIC performer Mitch Haugeberg, MSU coach Paul Rudolph said the running game is being brought along slower than the passing game. The Beavers also lost starting running back and leading rusher Blake Eggl to graduation.
"We backed off some things in the run game just to make sure we're doing things the right way, but we've added some things in the pass game," Rudolph said. "We feel like we can take the next step with some of those receivers and our quarterback."
Cunha threw for 1,982 yards in 11 games as a freshman last season, completing 51 percent of his passes while tossing 14 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
The 6-foot-3 righty looked noticeably slimmer Monday and said he weighs about 225 or 230 pounds, 10 less than the end of last season.
"Hopefully, I can hurt the defense a little bit running the ball," said Cunha, who is primarily a pocket passer.
Monday's practice featured several execution hiccups, but Rudolph was pleased with the players' effort.
"We dropped a few balls, snapped a few that weren't right, but some things looked good," he said. "Some things looked all right, moving in the right direction, but we've got a lot of things to work on."
The Beavers have 14 more organized workouts this month, concluding with the annual spring scrimmage at 9 a.m. on April 27.
Team adds two recruits
MSU announced the signings of two more players Monday, bringing the 2013 recruiting class to 31 players.
Junior wide receiver Leon LaDeaux will join younger brother and sophomore kicker/punter Aaron. Leon LaDeaux, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, spent the previous two seasons at Division II Central Washington. He caught 37 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. In high school, he was a four-year letterwinner and a member of the Washington all-state team as a senior.
Xavier Hightower, a native of football-rich Alabama, joins the Beavers after a year at Northland Community & Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minn.
Hightower is a 6-foot-5, 305-pound defensive lineman. He had 41 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and three sacks as a freshman.