News » Montana State University-Northern

Lights go to work

Contributed by admin on Aug 21, 2015 - 03:40 PM
Picture 0 for Lights go to work

At 4 p.m. Thursday, the countdown clock will officially begin for the Montana State University-Northern football team. That's because the Lights will take to the practice field for the first time.

Northern opens its season on the road at Dickinson State University Aug. 22, so that gives first-year head coach Aaron Christensen 16 days to prepare his troops.

"Excited to get started," Christensen said ahead of last week's Frontier Conference media day, where the Lights were picked eighth in the Frontier Conference Preseason Coaches Poll.

And the Lights should be excited to get going. Northern had a productive spring, implementing Christensen's new offensive system and engaging in some great competition through two full scrimmages. The Lights also took some positive momentum into spring, and the beginning of the Christensen era when they toppled Rocky Mountain College in the final game of the 2014 season last November in Billings.

Now, however, the Lights, with nearly 40 new recruits in fall camp, will use the next 16 days to get ready to play the rival Blue Hawks and to get ready for the rugged Frontier Conference. Northern went 3-8 a year ago, and while there will be plenty of new faces in fall camp, MSU-N does have key players to build around.

At the top of that list are junior running back Zach McKinley and junior defensive end Tyler Craig. McKinley led the Frontier in rushing a season ago and was a First-Team All-Conference performer, while Craig led the league in sacks. Running back Mario Gobbatto, defensive tackle Patrick Barnett, linebacker Tucker Dunn, cornerback Malcolm Manual and lineman Pete Morales also give the new Lights a veteran presence in camp.

Northern begins fall camp Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. Camp will continue through Aug. 20, before the Lights travel to Dickinson, North Dakota, to open the season Aug. 22. MSU-N will then have a week off before playing its home and conference opener against Montana Tech Sept. 5.

Off and running: Lights camp is underway

Contributed by admin on Aug 21, 2015 - 03:42 PM
Picture 0 for Off and running: Lights camp is underway

New Montana State University-Northern head football coach Aaron Christensen has been waiting to get his football team on the field and finally, Thursday evening, he got the chance to do just that.

The Lights, who are just 16 days away from their season-opening game on the road against traditional rival Dickinson State University, took part in their first practice of fall training camp as nearly 100 players were on the field for the opening day of drills.

"I thought it was a good day," Christenson said. "I thought that there was some good and bad, but it's kind of hard because for almost 50 of these kids, it was their first practice with us. So they just don't know enough and still have a lot to learn before they can really compete. We are just trying to get guys lined up and learning skills. Just going through the basics."

Overall though, it was a productive first day for the Lights, who are coming off a 3-8 season under then interim head coach Jake Eldridge, who has since resumed his duties as defensive coordinator.

Eldridge had his defenders going through drills Thursday, both as an entire defensive unit, then split into positions, with a focus on technique and the recognition of offensive formations. It seems like simple stuff, but even at the collegiate level, strong fundamentals are the key to success.

On the offensive side of the ball, things were about the same. Quarterbacks and receivers worked on route combinations and threw passes against air, while the offensive line worked on footwork and blocking techniques. The running backs, were also given a chance to run and catch the football against air as backs Zach McKinley and Mario Gobatto, routinely looked like two of the better athletes on the field for MSU-N.

One notable player who was in attendance but not in pads was transfer quarterback Herman Smith. Smith is expected to do battle with returning sophomore quarterback Jess Krahn, who actually has some starts under his belt and led the Lights to an upset victory over Rocky Mountain College in the final game of the 2014 season.

Krahn and Smith are likely going to duke it out for the starting quarterback job, according to Christensen, but at this point, he just wants to get every player on the field and on the same page, so he can give each of them an equal opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff.

However, Smith, who took part in spring practice, has a big advantage on the rest of the newcomers, who have just over a week to go before the Lights first and only scrimmage of fall, which gives them precious little time to get acclimated to the system and make enough of an impact to warrant playing time.

"Right now things are completely wide open," Christenson said. "We anticipate Herman and Jess competing for the quarterback job, but we have so many kids, that we are leaving pretty much everything wide open right now. We could end up redshirting a lot of kids, but if we can get them to stay and to be on the field, that will be a good thing for us."

Roger Miller

Montana State University-Northern running back Mario Gobatto runs through drills on the first day of Lights football practice Thursday at the MSU-Northern practice fields.

The Lights ran through individual and team drills in the hour and 45 minute practice, but they weren't padded up and therefore ran plays against air instead of lining up the offense and defense in 11-on-11 action. There was also no 7-on-7 on day one, but that action is soon to come as the Lights will wear the pads tonight during the second of two practices scheduled for today.

MSU-N will practice twice today and Saturday before going back to a single session for Sunday, which will also be in pads. Christensen said he is hoping to get as much work done as possible this weekend, as the final scrimmage of fall camp is set for Aug. 15 at the Northern practice field at 1 p.m. After that, the team will begin preparing for Dickinson State and the chance to earn a spot in the starting lineup may be harder to come by.

"Right now we are just trying to get everybody up to speed and see where they are at," Christensen said. "But, yeah, it's a quick turn around for our first game, so the guys need to take advantage of every opportunity they have to make I'm impression."