MAYVILLE, N.D. -- Mayville State football coach Rocky Larson knows the reputation of his football program. The 28-year-old first-year head coach is the Comets' third head coach in three years, after all.
But he also knows there's plenty of opportunity this fall to capitalize on extra attention from football fans with coronavirus-related shutdowns elsewhere in the region.
The UND football program pushed its entire fall season to the spring. North Dakota State has said it'll try to play one game before playing the remainder of the season in the spring. The University of Minnesota and the rest of the Big Ten is also going to try to play in the spring.
Mayville State, meanwhile, plans to play out its fall schedule, with a season and home opener Sept. 12 against Waldorf College. The Comets, who were 2-8 in 2019, play in the NAIA and are a member of the North Star Athletic Association along with in-state rivals Valley City State and Dickinson State.
"We'll have a lot of eyes," Larson said.
Larson grew up in a football family in Somerset. His father, Bruce, has been the varsity football coach at Somerset for more than 20 years and his younger brother, Reggie, is beginning his third season as head coach at New Richmond. A 2010 graduate of Somerset High School, Larson spent the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
The Comets reported to fall camp Aug. 12, when the school tested every player for COVID-19.
"Then, we created a bubble on campus by positions so if a kid did test positive, we wouldn't have to sit out the whole team," Larson said. "Every dorm on campus is being used, we ate at different times and just tried to create that bubble."
Larson said the Comets have had one positive test but were fortunate to only have one teammate targeted as a close contact by tracers, meaning just two players needed to sit out.
When Larson took over the program in February, he had about 35 players on the roster. The Comets now have 88 -- a number that includes a whopping 62 freshmen.
Still, he said the team will be led by its seniors in 2020.
"We've had some really bad times down here, but 12 seniors have stuck with the program through all the turmoil," Larson said. "They've accepted me as a head coach. I feel really comfortable leading us and getting us going in the right direction. I'm extremely confident in that group of seniors."
One of those top seniors is quarterback Creighton Pfau, a former West Fargo High School standout. Pfau, who was named to the North Star preseason all-conference second team, threw for 2,168 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. He was also the Comets' most productive runner with 381 yards and four touchdowns.
Larson said his new staff will implement a run-pass option offense featuring big personnel. As a team in the Upper Midwest and its unpredictable weather conditions, Larson said he wants the Comets to be able to run the ball.
He also wants to recruit local -- a common catchphrase previous Mayville State coaches have used in theory but rarely implemented.
"That's something, when I took this job, I heard from everyone that Mayville doesn't recruit local," Larson said. "I talked to a lot of mad people.
"I understand the importance of recruiting local. This Friday, I'm sending three coaches to Grand Forks, coaches to Fargo and our whole staff is splitting up across North Dakota. We will be visible throughout this region."