Small colleges: RCTC looking to become elite again
New coach has high hopes for Yellowjackets
Derrick Hintz hadn’t been named the head coach of the Rochester Community College football team in January, but he was still on the staff and he was going to make sure that recruiting remained a primary focus.
Eric Waldstein, who had coached at RCTC for the two previous seasons, had been let go and Hintz was in line for the head coaching job. Hintz had coached on and off at RCTC for 15 previous seasons, including as the defensive coordinator in 2017. He was RCTC’s head coach for two seasons in 2011-12 before taking four coaching seasons off at RCTC to spend time with his family.
During Waldstein’s two-year stint as head coach RCTC was 6-5 and then 6-3 last year. Each time the Yellowjackets had failed to reach the MCAC state title game, something they had done in 19 of the previous 20 seasons prior to 2016.
Hintz was eager to get RCTC back on track to being one of the elite teams in the MCAC so he made sure recruiting was a priority.
“I’m a program guy,” Hintz said. “Even if I wasn’t coming back, I wasn’t going to leave the program hanging.”
When Hintz was named the head coach, he was well on his way to having a strong recruiting class. RCTC had less than 40 players make one road trip last season. Hintz and his staff, which features four former RCTC players and three more that are interns, recruited about 100 players. The team has more than 90 players on its roster as the regular season approaches on Sept. 1.
“That’s what we try to do,” Hintz said of the large roster. “The talent should be good.”
The Yellowjackets return about 20 players who have played for the team in the past. Getting new players up to speed at a two-year school remains a priority each and every season.
“I’m happy with our recruiting,” Hintz said. “We have to get in shape to see how talented we are.”
Hintz coached RCTC to a pair of state titles in 2011 and ’12 (due to Central Lakes forfeit) and he had a two-year record of 21-2. He hopes RCTC is in the mix to get to the state championship game this year along with other possible contenders Northland (last year’s state champ), Mesabi Range, Central Lakes and North Dakota at Bottineau.
“If we stay healthy, we have the talent,” Hintz said.
RCTC opens with a tough slate with Northland, North Dakota (both at home) and Central Lakes all coming in the first four weeks of the eight-game regular season.
“We want to beat Northland,” Hintz said. “Then we’ll focus on the next team.
“At the end of the day, we’re still RCTC,” the coach added. “We expect to win no matter what. But you really don’t win on Saturday, you win from Monday through Friday (during practice).”
Here is a position-by-position rundown of the team:
• OFFENSE •
Two freshmen played QB for RCTC a year ago, but neither is back. There are five newcomers battling for this year’s job. “The spot’s a dogfight because we have five good guys,” Hintz said.
Ironically two of the five quarterbacks looking to earn the starting job are from Princeton High School: Shane Fleury and Michael Schimming. Tashawn Brown-Smith and Michael Garza both hail from Illinois while Hunter Griffiths is from Wisconsin.
“They’ll sort themselves out,” Hintz said, “they’re all competing well right now.”
The Yellowjackets are looking for an overall upgrade at QB. A year ago RCTC quarterbacks completed just 89 total passes, and a mere 39.4 percent of their throws while throwing 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
This should be a deep and talented position for the Yellowjackets, headed by a strong cast of returning players. Four players with experience return in Rochester’s Cazz Martin and Greg Henry along with St. Paul’s Benjamin Thompson and Red Wing’s Omonte Bowens.
Martin, a John Marshall grad, led the team in rushing with 625 yards a year ago.
He rushed for five touchdowns and averaged 6.1 yards a carry. He also scored three TDs on eight receptions. Thompson rushed for 148 yards and averaged 4.0 yards last year before suffering a broken foot.
Neither Henry nor Bowens played last season. Henry, a Mayo grad, redshirted and Bowens was injured. Henry led the team in rushing with 528 yards in 2016 and he averaged 6.0 yards a carry and scored six TDs.
There are also several strong freshmen who will be in the mix for playing time. Hintz said the position could be eight deep and some of the players could see action at tight end or at slot receiver.
“We have an awesome group of freshmen,” Hintz said. “This is as deep a group of running backs as I can remember.”
Apple Valley’s Trey Johnson returns after leading the team in receptions a year ago. As a freshman he caught 28 passes and five TDs while averaging 13.5 yards a catch.
Thomas Miller also returns from a year ago, although he did not have a reception in 2017. Century grad Gabe Supalla caught one pass a year ago before missing the rest of the season with mono. This year he is scheduled to redshirt.
Peter Osmund, who played at Mayo, and transfer Karon Whittaker, who played at De La Salle, also have a chance to make an impact along with several other freshmen.
“That might be the group that’s the biggest surprise,” Hintz said of the receivers. “They’re athletic, they just have to put it all together.”
If Bowens doesn’t play as much at running back, he could have an impact at tight end.
Willie Bryant and Chris Phillips are also back with the team. Phillips returns after taking a year off. Bryant, who hails from Texas, did not catch a pass last season.
After having limited impact with the Yellowjackets the past couple of years, tight ends might be more in play this season at RCTC.
Faribault’s Tim Messenger is the only returning player on the offensive line. But this is a position that Hintz believes could be an upgrade from a year ago. And size could be a big part of that.
“We should have good size on the offensive line,” the coach said.
Wisconsin native Dakota Elsenpeter suffered an injury in high school last year, but he is expected to have an impact. “He should be a good one,” Hintz said.
The coach is also high on Georgia’s Anthony Gillmore and said Kasson-Mantorville grad Isaac Bahr has “been looking good.”
The Yellowjackets will have a new kicker this season. Juan Martinez comes in from Georgia and he is battling Colton Taylor for the job. Taylor, from Redwood Falls, is also in the mix to play at wide receiver.
• DEFENSE •
This is a position of experience and depth. Three players return in Dylan Dumarce, Naseed Hargrove, Eden Prairie’s Robert Walls and Dylan DuMarce. Hargrove and Walls (who went by Robert Brown last year) both had 20 tackles in 2017 and DuMarce had 13. DuMarce had three sacks, Walls had two and Hargrove had 1.5.
Darius Smith returns after not playing the past two years and Cameron Cooper is also back, but he was an offensive lineman a year ago.
“The leadership is there,” Hintz said. “There’s a lot of guys who have been to battle together.”
A couple of the freshmen prospects include Pine Island’s Austin Keller and Wisconsin’s Khalan Coleman.
This is another position of strength. The team lost top tackler and defensive leader Brandon Perce to a Division I program, but there are three linebackers returning in Pierre Ruffin, Austin’s Corey Waller and Jamel Smith.
Smith was second on the team with 103 tackles last, 15 for loss. He added two sacks and had one interception. Waller had 10 tackles last year and Ruffin added two. Coaching linebackers is one of Hintz’s specialties, so this is an area he worked on early in recruiting. He landed a trio of solid area players in Chatfield’s Carter Fishbaugher, Goodhue’s Sven Otterness and Plainview-Elgin-Millville grad Eddy Martinez-Sosa. “We have a good crew of linebackers,” Hintz said. “They’re all good.”
Two key players return to the secondary in Wisconsin’s Anthony Harper and Rochester’s Bangalee Bamba. Harper had a team-high five interceptions last season and was sixth with 52 tackles. Bamba, who played at Century, also had a big impact with 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He also returned his lone interception for a 40-yard touchdown.
There are a number of freshmen who are competing for playing time including Mayo grad Antwone Ross.
“We’re waiting for someone to step up and take the spots,” Hintz said.
DuMarce returns after holding the punting job a year ago. He averaged 32.0 yards on 52 punts, including nine inside the 20 yards line.