The NSIC will release it’s All-Conference team today. It will consist of a first and second team, plus honorable mentions, for both the North and South Divisions.
Lots and lots of players will be honored. In fact, if you’re a starter, you’ve got about a 50% chance of being so honored.
That’s all fine and good, but it does cheapen the phrase ‘all-conference’ to some degree.
To combat this, I last year introduced my NSIC ‘All-Pro Team’, so named not because these guys are pro’s, obviously, but in reference to the NFL All-Pro team, which has always been much more exclusive than the Pro Bowl or other such awards.
There are 27 players on the team — one for each position including kicker, punter and returner, and allowing for an extra RB/WR on offense and an extra DL/LB on defense because obviously different teams run different schemes.
Obviously I saw USF and Augie more than any other team, and saw the South more than the North, although I picked just two Augie guys and no one from USF, after the Cougars dominated by All-Pro team last year. As was the case last year, I didn’t pick a center, two guards, etc. for offensive line, or split hairs with the D-line and secondary. I just picked five O-linemen, four D-linemen and four DBs.
Individual stats, team record, and my own personal observations all played into the selections. Feel free to call me an idiot in the comments.
Jon Wolf, Minnesota State - 1,719 yards passing and 15 touchdowns passing, 1,047 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing
The NSIC is always a loaded league at the QB position and likely always will be. Last year choosing one as the league’s best was very difficult and this year was no different.
St. Cloud’s Philip Klaphake was my pick last year, and as a Harlon Hill finalist, he’d make a good pick this time around as well.
Jake Hodge or Moorhead, Craig Bagnell of Mary, Jack Nelson of Winona, Cole Jaeschke of Upper Iowa, Klaphake and SMSU’s Charlie Kern all averaged more than 250 yards per game and all threw at least 23 touchdown passes. But none of them are my pick.
Mankato’s Wolf was one of the league’s best all around athletes in leading the Mavs to a second straight perfect season, and while he didn’t put up the gaudy passing stats it wasn’t for lack of ability. The 6-4 senior led the league in passer rating, was second in completion percentage (63.4), and threw only one interception. One. Threw it in the first game of the season, too.
Oh, and the guy can jump.
Tyler Tonderum, SMSU - 1,979 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, 32 catches for 274 yards and 1 touchdown
Chris Smith, Upper Iowa - 1,706 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing, 11 catches for 82 yards receiving
No brainers, here, as both players surpassed the single-season NSIC rushing record that Winona’s Rayon Simmons set just last year.
Tonderum had his coming out party by rushing for 343 yards against Moorhead and ran for over 100 yards in all but two of the Mustangs’ games, leading them to their best-ever season at the Division II level at 7-4, and a berth in the Mineral Water Bowl.
Smith helped the Peacocks to their first-ever winning season in Division II, surpassing 200 yards in a game four times.
Anthony Dean, SMSU - 46 catches for 931 yards and 17 touchdowns
Nick Jolliffe, Mary - 64 catches for 843 yards and 15 touchdowns
Adam Jiskra, MSU-Moorhead - 67 catches for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns
Wayne Peters led the league in catches and Carrington Hanna still might be the best pure wide receiver in the league, but having spent half the season at quarterback I couldn’t, in good faith, pick Hanna for the team, as much as I wanted to, as he finished with just 491 yards and three touchdowns on 44 catches. It just would’ve been too much of a stretch.
Dean, Jolliffe and Jiskra all have numbers that speak for themselves, and the work of all three helped for a much improved season for their teams.
Lucas Hefty, Upper Iowa - 65 catches for 846 yards and 10 touchdowns
Another easy one. Cody Condon of SMSU, Austin Vanhove of USF and Connor Doherty of Northern all had nice seasons — the latter two were their teams’ leading receivers — but Hefty put up wide receiver numbers. No other tight end was close.
Tom Olson, Minnesota Duluth
Brandon Puffer, SMSU
Josh Meeker, Minnesota State
Andrew Essman, Minnesota State
Casey Beck, Upper Iowa
You could almost take any of SMSU’s five linemen, as all are seniors and they paved the way for the league’s No. 1 offense. Same deal for Mankato, whose interior play on both sides of the ball is silly good. Beck led an underrated Peacock line, while Olson was the captain of yet another dominant Bulldog front.
Chris Schaudt, Minnesota State - 40 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks
Jake Lee, Augustana - 42 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks
Josh Gordon, Minnesota State - 40 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks
John Oyloe, Mary - 54 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks
Schaudt and Gordon were the leading men on the most dominant unit in the league. MSU held opponents to 14.5 points and 269 yards per game, including just 64 rushing yards per game. They held Tyler Tondrum to 61 yards on 19 carries, they held Chris Smith to 34 yards on 6 carries.
Lee wore down a little bit down the stretch, as the toll of the Viking defense needing to carry their team beat him up, but for most of the season he was the most consistent and reliable player on the most underrate defense in the South.
Oyloe is a repeat selection who followed up one good season with another.
SMSU’s AJ Page put up crazy numbers for a defensive end, and while he’s obviously a good player, I wasn’t comfortable taking a guy from one of the league’s worst defenses. Big tackling numbers often come from being on a defense that can’t get off the field.
Also hard to pass up were Bo Putrah of St. Cloud State and Concordia’s Zach Moore, who managed seven sacks despite being the most feared (and consequently most double-teamed) pass rusher in the league.
Grant Singer, Mary - 118 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries
Troy Guptill, Mary - 78 tackles, 21.5 for loss, 12.5 sacks
Colby Ring, Minnesota Duluth - 55 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions
Tyler Henderson, Minnesota State - 64 tackles, 6 for loss, 2.5 sacks
Singer should be named the North’s defensive player of the year. Great pass rusher and run stopper with the speed to cover.
Guptill, a former Philip standout who apparently snuck under the radar of South Dakota schools, led the league in sacks and tackles for loss as part of the most underrated defense in the NSIC.
Ring had another excellent season captaining the Bulldogs excellent defense, while Henderson emerged as the leading tackler on the No. 1 defense in the league as a sophomore.
Jack Moro, St. Cloud State - 7 interceptions, 75 tackles, 1 blocked kick, 1 touchdown
Thomas Vanasek, Augustana - 74 tackles, 1 interception
Nathan Hancock, Minnesota State - 43 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 touchdown
Tevin Kellum, Minnesota Crookston - 88 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 7 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
A year after picking off an incredible 11 passes, Moro proved it was no fluke by picking off seven more. Vanasek is a physical presence who can make plays against the run and the pass, while Hancock was second in the league in interceptions (though I almost disqualified him when I saw his hair in the above photo).
Kellum is probably the surprise choice, but I saw him play each of the last three years and was impressed with him each time. It can’t be easy to toil away for a Golden Eagles team that considers consecutive two-wins seasons to be a significant breakthrough, but Kellum packed a lunch. He had 15 tackles and an interception this year in the game I covered against USF.
Sam Brockshus, Minnesota State - 60/61 XP, 14-18 FGs, 102 points
He was the wrong choice by the league’s coaches last year (USF’s Braden Wieking was better), but he’s a no-brainer this year, leading the league in points, field goals, field goal percentage and PAT percentage.
Zach Pulkinen, Bemidji State - 42.5 yards per punt, 15 punts inside 20
One of the league’s busiest punters was also the best, ranking second in the league in punting average and first in net average, as the Beavers allowed just 199 yards in returns on his 66 kicks.
Dennis Carter, Minnesota State
With two punt returns for touchdowns, Carter gets the nod over USF’s Wes Smith.
Most Valuable Player
Jon Wolf, Minnesota State
Last year I went with Schaudt, stressing value over production, as I consider MVP to mean something different than ‘player of the year’.
Schaudt wouldn’t really be a bad pick this year, either, nor would a few other players on the MSU defense, as their second straight undefeated season was once again predicated on their ability to dominate the trenches with their D-line.
Klaphake would be an obvious choice, too, and I you could make a strong case for Moorhead’s Hodge, Winona’s Nelson and USF’s Hanna. You have to wonde what the Cougars would’ve done this year without Hanna to guide two freshman QBs, then fill in for them when they went down.
But really, it comes down to Tonderum and Wolf, and I have to go with Wolf. Tonderum was at least slowed down a couple times, notably against MSU-Mankato, and even to some degree this week at Augie.
Nobody stopped Wolf. You could say that’s in part because he had great teammates around him, but Tonderum had Kern and Dean to keep opposing defenses honest, too.
Coach of the Year
Cory Sauter, SMSU
Aaron Keen led MSU to another undefeated season, but, not to take anything away from that, he was kind of supposed to, with so many players back from last year’s undefeated team.
That doesn’t mean his job was easy or that he’s undeserving of the award.
Concordia’s Ryan Williams and Moorhead’s Steve Laqua led their teams to three-win improvements but still had losing seasons, but for me it’s between Sauter and Upper Iowa’s Tom Shea.
Shea led the Peacocks to the biggest turnaround, going from 2-9 to 6-5, while Sauter led the Mustangs from 4-7 to 7-4.
But to me, SMSU’s turnaround was more surprising, given that the Mustangs had to replace so much. They lost two excellent senior running backs in Gannon Moore and Warren Matthews, and a pretty good QB in Tyler Peschong.
In Saturday’s win at Augie, the Mustangs went for it on 4th down four times. They converted all four, including a big one late where they called a quick pass with Tonderum in the backfield and everyone expecting a run.
"Ballsy call," admitted Augie coach Jerry Olszewski.
"We wanted to play to win, we weren’t going to play not to lose," Sauter said.
Good enough for me.
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