There was a new dimension present at Winona State’s first fall football practice Thursday afternoon. A new piece for Tom Sawyer’s 16th annual purple puzzle.
Where quarterback John Teigland fits in, no one really knows for sure at this point. He could be the missing piece to one of Sawyer’s best teams.
A team that finished 7-4 last season and shared the NSIC’s South Division title with Augustana.
Or, he could push the other main two competitors for the job — Alex Nelson and Bryan Bradshaw — to a level they were not at a year ago.
That’s the fun part about it, Sawyer said, as everyone can speculate, but there are no guarantees for Teigland, who started at NCAA Division II Nebraska-Omaha last season as a sophomore. Teigland, who led Nebraska-Omaha to a 5-6 record when he threw for 1,870 yards and 16 TDs, was left without a team when the school dropped its football program.
“I am just blessed to be here, to be around these great guys and great people,” Teigland said.
“Luckily, some schools were looking for quarterbacks, so I had some options. When I came up here for a visit, I kind of fell in love with the place, mainly the people.”
If Teigland can help the Warriors win, people could fall in love with him. An accurate passer, Teigland will not be handed the job. Nelson was Greg Preston’s backup two seasons ago, but struggled last season after a thumb injury.
Bradshaw shared starting duties with the since-departed Evan Aber last year and played very well at times, then struggled at others.
“He is a very smart kid, a very mature kid,” Sawyer said of Teigland. “We recruited him coming out of (Indianola, Iowa) high school a long time ago.
“He went to Omaha, which was a right decision at the time, and now for a chance for him to come into our program, I think he is excited about being around us and the way we do things. I think it fits his style and it creates a great competition.”
Teigland’s style, he said, is to stay in the pocket and let the talented players around him show what they can do. Players like the NSIC’s leading rusher from a year ago, Rayon Simmons (1,252 yards), Curtis Dewberry (327 yards rushing, 31 receptions for 297 yards) or wide receiver Derrick Engel (39, 584, 4).
“I am kind of a high-energy guy. I love the game of football,” said Teigland, who turns 22 on Aug. 16. “I am more of a pocket passer, throwing the ball around, being accurate and making good decisions.
“It is unbelievable the amount of talent we have on our team, for a Division II team. We have unbelievable talent at every position.”
Nelson, a big, strong kid — he’s 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds — is right in the mix, as is Bradshaw, who showed he can win games in the NSIC when he completed 15 of 22 passes for 202 yards and ran for a score in beating Concordia-St. Paul 31-28 last season.
“It is just more competition and we love that,” said Nelson, a senior in terms of eligibility. “That is what coach Sawyer has always pushed us to do, to be better.
“That is all this is, trying to make the team better, trying to push everyone else to play at our highest level.”
Sawyer, whose team has 22 practices before its season opener Sept. 3 against Michigan Tech, is pushing everyone to be at a high level.
“That competition is going to be fierce but they are going to be in it together,” Sawyer said. “He (Teigland) fit in right away. He is the same mold; just a great person and comes from a great family and he is the kind of kid you want him to do well.
“If he is our starter, great. If he is not, he is making us better.”