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University of Mary wide receiver Isaac Bolton celebrates after success in a four-on-four tackling drill during Saturday's Red Flag Spring Game at MDU Resources Community Bowl.

Jason Hoekstra was thrown into the hottest of quarterback fires last season – a true freshman starting in the NSIC.

There were ups and downs for the Legacy High alum, but he’s clearly better for it.

Hoekstra, Logan Nelson and newcomer Avery Gould all showed flashes of major upside Saturday night during the University of Mary spring football game at the MDU Resources Community Bowl. The modified-scoring system ended with a 51-44 victory for the Marauders’ offense, but both sides showed promise.

“Going from last year to this year there’s definitely a sense of feeling more comfortable in the offense not just for myself but for our entire team,” said Hoekstra, who hit Isaac Bolton for a late-game touchdown. “It takes time to learn the offense, but you can definitely see the progress and improvement.”

Nelson started the first series and showed a strong arm and elusiveness. Gould did the same. The sophomore from Yuba City, Calif., will make for a very interesting competition for the QB spot come August. Last season’s starter – Jordan Velarde – got reps in non-contact drills and will be 100 percent full-go when fall camp rolls around. Velarde and Nelson both suffered season-ending knee injuries last season.

“We support each other and get along great. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Gould said of the quarterback room. “Having coach (Craig) Bagnell, a quarterback himself, is awesome. Obviously, he knows the position inside and out. He’s a great guy to learn from.

“We all know Jordan’s a great player. Logan showed what he can do tonight and Jason did a great job. It’s going to be a great competition, but we all have each other’s backs. We’re looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”

After losing their first three QBs to injury last season, restocking the position was of major importance. It looks like that mission was accomplished.

“It’s going to be a very difficult decision, but that’s a good thing. We’ve upgraded the quarterback position. We like all of those guys and I thought they came out here tonight and did a lot of really good things,” Bagnell said. “It’ll continue through the summer. These guys are competitive. They want to learn. They want to get better and that’s the most exciting thing.”

The Marauders also showed their depth at wide receiver.

Luke Little, one of the best in the NSIC, hauled in a touchdown reception. Fellow Century High product Kade Lynch continued to force his way into the mix. Toss in Italian newcomer Leo Vecchi with holdovers Tyson Carney, Garrett Weissinger and Danny Kittner among others, and the Marauders look to be in good shape on the outside.

In one of the few negatives on the night, Kittner had to leave early with a left shoulder injury.

DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS

With new co-coordinators Matthew Splon and Ben Davis making the calls, the U-Mary defense definitely had its moments.

Noah Krebs and Richard Bendish had interceptions.

Newcomers Su’e Taugavau and Anthony Zuniga, key recruits for the Marauders on the defensive line, were consistently creating havoc. Both are from California.

“I have to thank coach (Tristian) Johnson and coach (Michael) Silbernagel,” Taugavau said. “Coach Johnson’s been teaching me the playbook and coach Silbernagel’s been working me hard, getting me back into shape. I was a little fat when I got up here.

“I think we have a lot of potential on defense. There are things we have to clean up, but if continue to put the work in, I think we’re going to pretty good.”

Bagnell was pleased with what he saw.

“It was physical. I thought our guys got after it,” the head coach said. “We’ve upgraded our talent on both sides of the ball. We like where we’re at. We need to carry this over into the captain-led practices in the summer.

“We’re excited. We think as a whole we’ve taken a step forward. There are some talented kids running around out here. We’re looking forward to getting them back on campus and start working toward September 5th.”

The Marauders open the 2019 season at home on Sept. 5, hosting St. Cloud State.

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Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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