Get it started: Jimmies, Vikings tonight in Valley
Life without star running back Derek Elliott begins tonight for Valley City State.
“You needed to know where he was all the time,” University of Jamestown head coach Shawn Frank said of Elliott.
The Vikings will go with a committee-approach at the running back position, but VCSU coach Dennis McCulloch said there’s no replacing the former All-American.
“They don’t come around that often, players like Derek,” McCulloch said. “Even if (the play) wasn’t blocked right, he could make something big happen. He was a special talent.”
Elliott, a Valley City High School product, accounted for over 2,300 yards of total offense last season and scored a whopping 23 touchdowns.
This season, the Jimmies have potentially the top offensive player in the league in quarterback Beau Eriksson and the Vikings know it.
“We’ve seen up close and personal what Beau can do. He’s a very good football player,” McCulloch said.
The Vikings also have their signal-caller back in Kurtis Walls. The sophomore got off to a solid start last season, but faded late. Still, he had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18-4.
“All things considered, Kurtis did pretty well last season,” McCulloch said. “He’s had a really good offseason. He’s in better condition, he has better understanding of the offense and he has that year of experience under his belt.”
Both teams have new play-callers, too. For the Jimmies it’s Josh Kittell, while John O’Day takes over as offensive coordinator for the Vikings. O’Day has been in Valley City the last three years, however.
“It’s a safe assumption that formationally both teams will have some new things to throw out there,” Frank said. “But our primary focus has been on us and trying to get the last Is dotted and Ts crossed.”
Both teams list seven starters back on defense, including some standouts.
For the Jimmies, nobody could block linebacker Jarelle Miller toward the end of last season. Fellow linebackers Ram Flores, Jared Mack, Ivan Gonzalez and Anthony Buzzell flashed last season.
Safety Pathen Asuncion and defensive lineman Zach McBeain are two of the top players in the North Star Athletic Association.
Chris Johnson gets the start in the backfield for the Jimmies, while Ian Keller starts behind, or along side, Walls for VCSU.
Freshman Mike Thingstad, a big bruiser at 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, was impressive in scrimmages for the Jimmies.
Two freshmen from Jamestown have been impressive early for the Vikings, McCulloch said.
Tyler Ukestad has seen a lot of early work with VCSU’s wide receiving corps being banged up. Star junior Colby Lum won’t play tonight.
Marc Wagner has two talented seniors in front of him at tight end, but also has showed potential. In a perfect world, both would red-shirt, but McCulloch said plans change sometimes.
“Both of those young men have come in and done a really nice job,” McCulloch said. “The futures for both Tyler and Marc look very promising.”
Sun sports editor Dave Selvig can be reached at (701) 952-8460 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org