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Eric Peterson, Published February 05 2013

Dragons poised to make increases in scholarships the next two years

Moorhead - Minnesota State Moorhead ranks last in its league in football scholarships, offering less than 12 this past fall.

However, Dragons head coach Steve Laqua thinks that number – less than half the allowable limit in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference – is misleading. That number is primed to grow.

“It’s like a seed sprouting underneath right now,” Laqua said. “There is good work being done.”

The Dragons offered 11.52 scholarships last fall when the NSIC limit was 27. The league maximum will grow to 28 next season with 13 of the 16 teams in the league offering at least 20 scholarships in 2012.

The league average for scholarships was around 20.8, according to information compiled by The Forum. Laqua said the plan is to add five scholarships for 2013, putting MSUM near 17 full rides. He is confident that will grow to 20 by 2014.

“That is what you will see in two years, 20, that’s the plan,” Laqua said. “If you can see two years ahead, that’s a pretty big deal.”

National signing day is today and MSUM plans to sign between 20 and 25 players.

For a second consecutive recruiting class, MSUM has offered around six scholarships to incoming players. Laqua said that’s the equivalent of two fully funded recruiting classes.

“You do that five times in a row … and you are fully funded,” Laqua said.

MSUM had $175,000 for football scholarships this past season with around half of that money given to incoming freshmen, a number of whom saw playing time in their first seasons.

“We’ve made some significant progress,” MSUM athletic director Doug Peters said. “We’re not going to jump from 11 to 28. We have to look at the systematic way we can grow it and get to that point.”

Laqua doesn’t think that increasing from 11.52 to 28 in one year is the best plan in building a program anyway. He wouldn’t want to commit 17 scholarships to a single recruiting class. Nor does he want to give a big chunk of the program’s scholarship dollars to transfer players.

“That was not the approach we wanted to use with the long-term approach with our program,” Laqua said.

Laqua said the time he spent as an assistant coach at North Dakota State has been helpful. The Bison had to increase their scholarship levels from NCAA Division II to Division I Football Championship Subdivision. Laqua said he’s using a plan similar to the one NDSU used during its transition.

“It’s come in handy for how we have set the plan up here,” said Laqua, who was an assistant at NDSU from 2002-03 and from 2005-07.

Since Peters took over as athletic director in 2007-08, the annual money set aside for football scholarships has increased by $59,000. MSUM offered $116,000 for football scholarships in Peters’ first year as athletic director.

Peters wants to add $75,000 for scholarships next season and another $75,000 the following year. If MSUM reaches that goal, it will have around $325,000 set aside for football scholarships in 2014.

“We’re definitely on a great path,” Peters said. “It’s been more than a couple-year process. It’s been a long-term process.”

Peters said Sanford Health has played a key role in MSUM being able to increase its scholarships in football as well as other sports for this school year. Sanford pledged $2 million for athletic scholarships to the school last March. The commitment was to give MSUM $200,000 a year for 10 years.

“What really happened for us is the Sanford Health gift, it was catalytic,” said Peters.

He said the support the athletic program has received from MSUM President Edna Szymanski has also helped.

“It’s a bunch of little things, not just a magic bullet,” Peters said.

The Dragons have posted 2-9 records in each of the past five seasons. Laqua hopes that more funding changes that trend.

“We feel once we can get to 20, we are close enough that you can grab somebody and pass them by,” Laqua said. “Right now, they are quite a bit farther up the ladder than we are. … The goal is to get on a competitive playing field where things are as close to equal as they can be.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com