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UND starts with a bang, ends with biggest rival, but playoff status to be determined in between

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Schuster

Quarterback Tommy Schuster (2) threw for 2,042 yards and 11 touchdowns last season for North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks start practice on Wednesday.

UND's season begins with a bang and ends with its biggest rival.

In between is where the Fighting Hawks will determine if they return to the FCS playoffs.

Coming off a 5-6 season, the University of North Dakota will play its season opener in front of 90,000 fans at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., against the Cornhuskers on Sept. 3. The final game of the season is in Fargo versus the Bison on Nov. 19.

Before any of that, UND starts practice on Wednesday.

"We're really excited to get going," said UND head coach Bubba Schweigert, beginning his ninth season in charge and 38th overall in the profession. "We had different access to our team during the summer, with walk-throughs and some individual work as part of our eight-hour segments. We think it was very helpful in the development and preparation of our team for fall camp."

UND's 5-6 record last season was deceiving. Their five Missouri Valley Football Conference losses were by an average of 4.6 points and none were by more than a touchdown.

Offensively, quarterback Tommy Shuster is back after throwing for more than 2,000 yards last fall. Quincy Vaughn also will see time under center. Vaughn, a 6-4, 245-pound Canadian, is more of a physical running threat.

"We'll play as many guys at a given position as we need to if we think it's effective and makes it hard for teams to prepare for," Schweigert said.

Wide receiver Alex Belquist, who led the Fighting Hawks in catches (52), yards (535) and touchdown grabs (5), returns. So does tight end Adam Zavalney, who had four TD receptions. Belquist is from New Rockford. Zavalney from Park River.

Luke Skokna, who had 221 yards rushing and almost 200 receiving, is back. Other returning ball-carriers include Isaiah Smith and Gaven Ziebarth. Northern Iowa transfer Tyler Hoosman has impressed throughout the summer. Hoosman had two rushing touchdowns last season for the Panthers.

"He's been really awesome this summer," Schweigert said of Hoosman. "He'll have an opportunity to compete for a lot of carries."

UND lost All-American offensive tackle Matt Waletzko to the NFL, a fourth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys.

"He developed into a model citizen and a great player," Schweigert said. "It's hard to replace those top-notch guys."

Schweigert said improving the inside of the offensive line was an area of emphasis.

Defensively, linebacker Devon Krzanowski returns after leading the Fighting Hawks with 68 tackles last season.

C.J. Siegel, a three-year starter at defensive back, had 28 tackles, two sacks and an interception in 2021. 

UND's home opener is Sept. 10 against Northern Iowa.

Going into the season healthy is a primary objective.

"We have a philosophy here to take care of the players on our football team," Schweigert said. "The most important dates on our schedule are the 11 games we play. How we prepare our team is really calculated and health is the number one thing."

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

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