By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
ST PETER —
Muresuk Mena was a high-school quarterback at Simley, but he came to Gustavus Adolphus as an athlete, when it was determined that he was best suited to play receiver.
But three years later, he’s back at quarterback, hoping his athletic ability can lead to more big plays and victories for the program.
“I just want to help the team in any way I can,” Mena said.
The Gusties are a week away from opening the season Sept. 8 at Simpson College. The Gusties have won only 10 games in the last three seasons, and the ability for Mena to convert to quarterback is a big key to the team’s success.
“I wanted to go with something we knew,” coach Peter Haugen said. “Muresuk’s leadership and play-making ability are something he’s demonstrated the last three years. His ability to pass is something we didn’t know.”
During the offseason, Mena said he got a call from Haugen to discuss a position switch, and he stayed at quarterback through spring workouts.
“I was kind of shocked at first when coach talked to me about it,” Mena said. “But I’m also excited.”
In Mena’s first three seasons at receiver, he had accumulated 104 receptions for 779 yards and four touchdowns, and he’s rushed for 57 yards and one touchdown.
“He’s a smart kid, and his teammates believe in him,” Haugen said. “When the guys in the huddle believe in the quarterback, good things can happen.”
The Gusties averaged 20.1 points and 305.7 yards per game last season, and Mena becomes a double-threat in the backfield. He seems to have enough arm strength to get the ball downfield, and at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he’s elusive in the open field.
“The biggest thing is to keep my head and eyes up,” he said. “I need to make the right reads and let everyone know if we need to change the play. As a receiver, I just had to know which route to run or who to block, but now I need to know everything and analyze what’s going on.”
Mena will be joined in the backfield by junior Jeffrey DuBose, last season’s leading rusher with 574 yards and seven touchdowns. Accompanying him will be junior Philip Butler, who rushed for 313 yards and six touchdowns and made 14 catches for 89 yards. Butler will be lined up in the backfield or split wide.
“Those are two guys that need to be on the field all the time,” Haugen said.
In the offensive line, 275-pound senior tackle Brian Grundmeyer and 270-pound junior guard Lyle Opdahl, who missed last season with a medical redshirt because of a knee injury, anchor the left side.
“It’s nice just to get back on the field with the guys,” Opdahl said. “When you lose a whole year, you really get excited for that first game.”
The returning group of linebackers is the strength of the defense. Junior Joe Haas led the team with 82 tackles last season, and sophomores Matt Keller and Anthony Boyce were both starters in 2011.
Junior Donte Green and senior Jesse Newell are back on the line, and juniors Beau Bachman, Kellan Euerle and Torey Asao return in the backfield. Euerle had one of the Gusties’ five interceptions last season.
“We have a lot of speed and athleticism on defense,” Haugen said.
Senior kicker and punter Tom Huepenbecker is also back.
Mena wants to help his teammates and coaches experience a winning season before he leaves Gustavus, and even though he has another season because of the redshirt, Opdahl came in with this group of seniors and wants to help them leave as winners.
“Everyone is working hard, and we need to change the mindset,” Opdahl said. “We need to have that lunch-pail mentality and bring Gustavus football back to that championship level.”