Matt Witwicki

2016 NSIC Elite Team

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Pictured: Jameson Parsons (SCSU), Trey Heid (AU), Peter Bateman (UMD), Michael Mehling (USF)
Photos: St. Cloud Times, Argus Leader, Duluth News Tribune, USF Athletics

Considering the immense size and divisional separation of the official Northern Sun All-Conference team, I decided to drum up my own ( NSIC Elite Team. One group on offense, one group on defense, special teamers, and then a NSIC MVP. This squad isn’t just about who had the best stats, but instead a combination of production and overall impact on team success.

With the collection of high performing four year starters at quarterback, it’s unlikely that we’ll see such strength again at the position for a long time. Jack Nelson (WSU), Luke Papilion (USF), and Drew Bauer (UMD), are all signal-callers that will go down as legends at their respective schools and deservedly so. Jordan Hein (BSU) was also a high level performer and will return in ’17 as the top returning quarterback in the conference. However, when looking at the 2016 campaign, Trey Heid was the top performer in the Northern Sun.
Trey Heid (SR) – Augustana
Heid accounted for an amazing 51 scores this fall. His great talent as a deep ball passer, coupled with his ability to scamper for big gains as a runner, made him one of the top quarterbacks on the Division II Football landscape. Heid ends his career having the most total yards of any signal-caller in the history of the Northern Sun.

Running Back (2)
The running back position saw strong seasons from players such as Gena Adams (BSU) and Max Simmons (SMSU), but two players set themselves apart from the others.
Max Mickey (JR) – Sioux Falls
Mickey led the NSIC in rushing yards by a wide margin on his way to finishing 2nd in D2 with 1,764 yards and 19 touchdowns in 13 games. Mickey also rushed for more yards than Cougar ever has. Mickey’s several runs over 50 yards made him the most exciting player in the conference. Mickey averaging 9 yards per carry is probably not a number we’ll see again anytime soon.

(Pictured: Paul Preston-WSU. Photo: Winona Daily News)

Paul Preston (SR) – Winona State
Preston rushed for 1,155 yards and 14 scores, while being a top all-purpose threat for the Warriors in each of his 4 years. Preston, while slight in frame, was a very elusive player that defenses struggled to contain.

Wide Receiver (2)
Wideout was a strong position in the NSIC this year with players like Cameron Johnson (WSU), Adam Connette (UMC), and Jameson Parsons (SCSU), all having strong seasons. However, the two players I’ve landed on were near the top in Division II when it comes to receptions and scores.

(Pictured: Matt Heller. Photo: MW)

Matt Heller (SR) – Augustana

Heller caught 77 balls for 1,490 yards, and set a new NSIC record with 21 receiving touchdowns. Heller and quarterback Trey Heid were simply the best downfield pitch-and-catch combination this league has ever seen. Heller’s ability to get separation and find open spaces in the back half of the defense was truly amazing.
Damon Gibson (JR) – Minnesota State Moorhead
Gibson caught 90 balls for 1,549 yards, 17 scores. Gibson led the conference in receiving yards and had some huge games against the better teams in the league. Gibson is a big target that quickly became a difficult defend, and enters the 2017 season as one of the more high profile players at the D2 level.

Tight End
Connor Doherty (SR) – Northern State
Doherty was far and away the top pass-catcher at the tight end position in the NSIC. He caught 37 balls for 543 yards and 8 touchdowns. Doherty was the one player at this position that got talked about by opposing coaches as if he was a highly respected wide receiver.

Offensive Line (5)
While lineman statistics (grades) aren’t readily available, a handful of offensive lineman set themselves apart. While Shane Finley (WSC) was on my short list of elite lineman in the conference, I ended up with the following selections.
Peter Bateman (SR) – Minnesota Duluth
Probably the top overall blocker in the NSIC. Unfortunately, Bateman blew out his knee in the last game of the regular season and missed UMD’s playoff loss at Emporia State. Bateman finished 2nd in the voting for the Upshaw Award, given for the top lineman at the D2 level.
Antonio Green (SR) – Sioux Falls
Green, also an Upshaw Award Finalist, was probably the most high-motor blocker in the NSIC.
Jesse Hein (SR) – Bemidji State
Hein, the older brother of star BSU QB Jordan Hein, was the blocking leader for one of the conferences most high-powered offensive attacks.
Grant Greenfield (SR) – Southwest Minnesota State
A longtime star on one of the top offenses during the last few seasons.
Trevor Wescott (SR) – Sioux Falls
The center was signal-caller upfront for the fantastic Coo running game.

Offensive Athlete
Jameson Parsons (SR) – St. Cloud State
A wide receiver, Parsons had yet another 1,000 yard season playing for an offense that was less than spectacular. Parsons, a converted quarterback, used a combination of his ability to gain separation, paired with a knack to go up and get a ball to be the most consistent receiver in the league the past two campaigns.

Defensive End (2)
Players like Ryan Dahleen (MSUM) and Westly Johnson (USF) both had strong years, but fell just short of making the NSIC Elite team.
Evan Perrizo (JR) – MSU Mankato
Perrizo had a breakout year, netting 8.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. His speed around the edge has made him a feared player for opposing offensive lineman.
Bryson Hamilton (SR) - Augustana
Hamilton, who missed the final two weeks due to a leg injury, was a top performer at the defensive end spot with both his pass rush and run support abilities. Hamilton finished with 7 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss through 9 games.

Defensive Tackle (2)
Chad Stoterau (SR) – Northern State
Stoterau was the conference’s top defensive lineman in 2016. He was strong both against the run and the pass as he anchored the physical NSU defense. Stoterau had 6.5 sacks and 9 tackles for loss, while leading the Wolves in tackles with 76.
Zach Dodge (SO) – MSU Mankato
Dodge isn’t as well-known as the other players listed here in the defensive line category but caught the eyes of coaches around the league with his quickness. Despite being an interior defensive lineman, Dodge still captured 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.

Linebacker (3)
Always a deep position in the conference. Players like Zach Bassuener (UMD) and Ruben Ibarra (MSU) both had fantastic seasons, but I simply couldn’t have them ahead of the guys listed below.
Michael Mehling (SR) – Sioux Falls
A special teamer in previous years, Mehling put his incredible motor and speed to use as a mike-backer and ended up being the top defender in the Northern Sun. Mehling was far and away the leading tackler and playmaker on a team that went unbeaten in the regular season. Mehling led the NSIC in solo stops, while also adding 5 sacks and a pick-6.
Beau Bates (SR) – Minnesota Duluth
While the UMD had challenges this season, Bates was one of the top performers in the conference. Bates had 11 sacks in the regular season, along with a league leading 17 tackles for loss, while being the leading tackler on the Bulldogs.
Kirby Hora (SO) - Augustana
Hora has become the young leader of the Viking defense. Hora was the top tackler in the NSIC this season, averaging 10 stops per contest.

Cornerback (2)
The defensive back position had several players who had strong years such as Donnell Vercher (Minot), Damon Benham (BSU), Cam Montgomery (WSC), and Cliff Redmond (USF), but I favored the players listed below:

(Pictured: Channing Barber. Photo: MW)

Channing Barber (SR) – Northern State
Barber led the NSIC in passes defended (18), while coming down with 4 interceptions. Barber scored 3 times as a defender this year and was the best player at creating points off turnovers.
Gunner Olszewski (SO) – Bemidji State
Olszewski was far and away the top tackler on a decent BSU defense. Olszewski ending up 5th overall in tackles in the NSIC, while netting 3 picks, and while being the top punt-returner in the conference.

Safety (2)
Andrew Spencer (JR) – Winona State
One of the most athletic defenders in the NSIC. Spencer was the top tackler on the best defense in the conference, despite missing time due to injury. Spencer makes plays all over the field and is maybe the most underrated player in the conference.
Josh Butler (JR) – Sioux Falls
While Butler isn’t the type of ball-hawking defensive back typically chosen for an elite team, he was the 2nd best defender and tackler on a top defense while being the hardest hitter in the Northern Sun.

Defensive Athlete
Mike Imperiale (JR) – Winona State
A linebacker, Imperiale was one of the best overall defenders in the conference while being a leader on the best defense in the NSIC. Imperiale was 2nd on WSU in tackles, while also netting 4 sacks.

(Pictured: Beau Bofferding. Photo: Duluth News Tribune)

Kick Returner

Beau Bofferding (SR) – Minnesota Duluth
Bofferding was the Swiss Army Knife for UMD this year, a dynamic player for the Bulldogs as a rusher and receiver and also on special teams. Bofferding made plays in the Bulldogs biggest games, finishing the year with 19 touchdowns.
Jonas Schenderlein (SO) - Concordia
Schenderlein was a perfect 28 for 28 on PAT attempts, while also making 7 of his 11 field goal tries.
Aaron La Deaux (SR) – Minot State
La Deaux was the top punter in Division II this season, finishing the year with an outstanding 47.1 yards per punt.

NSIC Most Valuable Player
Trey Heid unquestionably had the best season of any player in the conference but his team didn’t make the postseason. Having said that, two players stood out as the most integral to their team’s success as the best squads in the conference this season. UMD’s Drew Bauer had probably his best season as a Bulldog in ’16, leading his squad to numerous highly contested wins. However, one player had an equal or greater impact on the success of the NSIC champions.
Luke Papilion (SR) – Sioux Falls
Papilion finished in the top 10 in the conference in rushing, averaging an eye-popping 7.9 yards per carry, while scoring 16 times. If USF doesn’t get the production from their signal-caller in the rushing and passing games, the unbeaten Cougars probably don’t make the playoffs.

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  1. laker's Avatar
    Thanks for doing this- and all of your work throughout the season. It is a tough job and there must be times that you don't feel like doing it. But it is appreciated.
  2. Matt Witwicki's Avatar
    Brad, thanks for the kind words....and I'm very pleased we have D2 football fans who appreciate the coverage.