"The winner advanced to the playoffs and we ended up losing in overtime," recalled Eastman, who now serves as the men's athletic director, women's basketball coach and softball coach. "I was kind of relieved that we lost because I couldn't see us being able to play with only 19 players the next week. It would have been very tough for us."
Situations such as this are rare in the state of Minnesota, despite their reputation of being a snow-blown state. The 10 teams that comprise the Minnesota Community College Conference brave both humidity and cold, biting wind throughout their season. They generally start their nine-game season on the last week of August and it runs until the first week of November. In the first few weeks, they could be playing in 90-degree heat with muggy humidity and conclude the season facing 30-mile an hour winds and temperatures that reach 20-degrees below zero.
In addition, the teams have played in relative anonymity over the years, despite playing competitive football. One of the reasons the schools don't get much publicity is because they don't offer scholarships, while such neighboring states field very few community college teams. States such as Wisconsin and South Dakota do not even have teams, while Iowa has four schools that offer scholarships and Michigan has one. By contrast, Minnesota has 10 non-scholarship colleges, while Illinois also does not offer scholarships.
Itasca looks to rebound in 2001
In addition, Minnesota community colleges are mainly in small towns, with just one having a population of near 100,000. The majority of colleges within the state have enrollments of less than 5,000 and require some players to play on both sides of the ball.
It is uncommon for Minnesota community colleges to land Division I bounce-backs, but despite this several schools have experienced national success, especially Rochester Community and Technical College. The Yellow Jackets capped off a perfect 12-0 season in 2000 with a 23-20 win over Northern Iowa Area Community College in the Pepsi Cola-Sigler Printing Bowl. On the strength of their win, Rochester was ranked #2 in the national by the National Junior College Athletic Association behind Glendale (AZ). The nation's other pollster, the JC Grid-Wire, ranked Rochester #15 in the nation.
The team also produced the first NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year in DT Dustin Looman.
Looman, at 6-1, 260 pounds, was also the conference's Player of the Year. A very aggressive player, he amassed 27 quarterback sacks in his two-year career. Looman also garnered 57 tackles for loss, 13 fumble recoveries and 3 ½ safeties, as the Yellow Jackets went 22-1 in those two years. Looman recently spurned offers from the Universities of Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado State and Oregon State to sign with local Division II power Winona State. The team also sent All-American TE Jeremy Scott to Winona State, winners of the Mineral Water Bowl last season and three Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference titles in four years. In addition to Scott and Looman, 1st Team NJCAA All-American kicker, Adam Benike, is attempting to walk-on at Purdue University.
Back in 1999, Rochester WR Antoine Burns was a 2nd Team J.C. Grid-Wire All-American and was a red-shirt at the University of Minnesota last season. Keep an eye out for Burns.
After going 10-1 in 1999 with their only loss to the North Dakota School of Science in a bowl game, the community was shocked to learn that Rochester head coach Joel Swisher died of a heart attack on February 13, 2000. According to Chuck Siefert, who served as the head coach last season, "Joel raised the bar for the college in terms of success. We had established a strong history since the college began football in 1968, but Joel took the school to places they had not been."
Siefert returns to his position as defensive coordinator and defensive line coach with the hiring of Tom Hosier as head coach. The bowl win by the Yellow Jackets snapped a four-year post-season losing streak. Since 1995, Rochester has posted a remarkable record of 59-6 with four of those losses being in bowl games. However, two of those losses have come at the hands of conference nemesis Vermilion Community College, both of them in 1996.
Vermilion's fifth-year head coach Keith Turner (North Division Champions in 2000) knows about the history with Rochester. He has been with the college for 12 years and has seen his teams post the best overall record in the conference since 1990 and has been a part of three of the school's state championships. They also won six conference championships in the 1990's. He feels the experience the student-athletes gain helps them prepare to advance to the next level.
"Whether a student-athlete is going to Division I or II, I feel what they gain from our schools is very beneficial to their preparation," stated Turner. "At Vermilion, we have had a transfer rate of 88% during my years here, while our winning percentage has been 77% in the last 11 years. We are very proud of those numbers."
While Rochester and Vermilion (7-2 in 2000) have combined to win the last six state championships, other schools within the conference have had their share of success over the years.
For example, 19-year head coach Lloyd Danzeisen led Fergus Falls Community College (4-5 in 2000) to the state championship game four times in a span of five years (1989-93). They have also won eight South Division Championships during his tenure. This season, the Spartans may be able to make a serious run at the state championship, as they return QB Ben Brimhall (156-of-306, 2,362 yards, 26 TD in 2000) and WR Justin Arneson (51 receptions, 1,026 yards, 12 TD's in only seven games in 2000).
Although the majority of players to move on from the conference continue at the Division II, Division III and NAIA levels, both players are being sought out by Division I schools.
Arneson, at 5-11, 175, is being recruited by Nebraska, Marshall, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota, while Brimhall is also receiving letters every week.
"These guys might be the best combination in the state and maybe one of the best in the country," stated Danzeisen. Back in 1989-90, when his teams were playing for the state title, Danzeisen had All-American WR Todd Hendricks, who went on to be an All-Star with the World League of American Football and then with NFL Europe.
North Division runner-up Northland Community and Technical College Pioneers lost their top RB Scott Olsen, who rushed for 1,228 yards last year, as the team went 5-5. However, they return RB Chris Schrerer and FS Rashadd Perkins, who were 1st Team All-Conference choices last year.
At Hibbing Community College, head coach Kurt Zuidmulder welcomes back 1st Team All-Conference QB Chris Gaines and will try to improve on their 2-7 mark. The Cardinal will be led on defense by another 1st Team selection, Kelvin Jennings, who picked off eight passes for 163 yards and two scores last year. Doing the kicking will be Italian transplant, Rocky Marchesini, who has shown a strong leg.
In addition, Mike Flaten and the Mesabi Range Norsemen were also 2-7 in 2000 and will be led by RB Jermaine Washington and SS Jake Leoni. Rounding out the