The Rochester Community and Technical College football team has been a state power for years. Now second-year coach Bill Quistorff believes the Yellowjackets are on the verge of becoming a consistent national power.
The Yellowjackets are consistently in the national rankings as well, and they enter this year at No. 18. But the Division III non-scholarship school has often struggled in bowl games when pitted against Division I or II scholarship teams. RCTC has a 5-17 all-time bowl record.
Quistorff is hoping he and his staff have assembled a team with more speed and power to help compete with any other junior college team.
"Our goal for this year is to obviously do what we've been doing, but to also take ourselves to the next level," Quistorff said. "We want to play with and beat scholarship teams."
He coins the phrase as "Why can't we? Why not us?"
With the talent the Yellowjackets have assembled this year, maybe they can compete on the high national level. RCTC has played in 17 of the past 18 Minnesota state championship game since 1996 and even added Division III national titles in 2000 and 2007.
"We'd like to win a (overall) national championship," Quistorff said. "We put in a lot of work with this recruiting class and hit some home runs."
RCTC returns 19 players from last year's state-championship team, including six starters.
"Obviously last year we had a large group coming back so it was less of a (learning) process for them to get used to the program," Quistorff said. "It's going to take longer for leadership to develop. The younger guys are going to have to step up."
But Quistorff doesn't see that as a problem with the number of quality recruits.
"We've got a lot of good young guys coming in and some high-level kids coming in for this recruiting class," he said.
RCTC opens its season Saturday with a road game at Vermilion. Here is a position-by-position rundown of the team.
Tanner Menke of Jackson returns after starting a year ago. He threw for 2,024 yards and 19 touchdowns. But the sophomore has stiff competition to hold the job from Nick Rooney of Prior Lake. Rooney was All-State in Minnesota and produced three touchdowns in the annual Minnesota All-Star Game.
"He's a Division I-level kid," Quistorff said of Rooney. "He's definitely coming in to push Tanner for that spot."
The pair could split time at quarterback. The QB will be expected to direct a high-powered attack as RCTC is annually among the top scoring teams in the state.
The Yellowjackets used a trio of running backs to produce a solid ground attack in 2013. This year sophomore Virgil Hammond will be the featured back. The Wisconsin native rushed for 351 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. The rushing total should climb above the 1,000-yard mark this year if he stays healthy.
"He put in a tremendous amount of work in the offseason," Quistorff said of the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Hammond. "He's shifty and he can move."
Hammond's time in the 40-yard dash is about 4.38 seconds.
Lyle Jennings will be the fullback and main blocking back. Jennings is big at 6-foot, 230 pounds but he can also run the 40 in 4.5 seconds.
There are not a lot of returning veterans here, but the position is loaded with talent. Speedy Patrick Bolton of Chicago redshirted a year ago after suffering a broken arm but he could be headed for a big season.
"He's probably our best athlete," co-offensive coordinator Rob Neumann said. "He's the type of kid who can do it all. He's a D-I level guy for sure."
Camren Dearing of Richfield is the only receiver back who played a year ago. He saw limited action a year ago but is had a solid summer camp.
Freshman Marley Allison of Edina is a top recruit. He was Mr. Football runner-up in Minnesota in 2012 and went to Scottsdale Community College, where he redshirted last year. The strong and shifty receiver then transferred to RCTC.
St. Paul's Archie Briggs was referred to RCTC by the University of Minnesota. He had a brother who played for the Gophers and if Briggs has a successful RCTC career he could be headed to Minnesota.
Four other wide receivers in the hunt for playing time in the deep pool include 6-4 Kenny Norwood, Albert Lea's Cody Scherff, Billy Kellogg of Minneapolis and speedy Nate Moses.
The Yellowjackets are a bit thin at tight end. Osseo's Josh Phillips (6-3, 240) has both size and speed and will be the starter.
Jacob Sterling (6-5, 250) of Maple Grove is the only other player in the mix here. He is more of a physical blocker and could be moved to the offensive line.
The line features a number of players with a lot of size. Chicago's Chris Whitfield (6-5, 310) is the only returning player on the line and he redshirted a year ago. He is contending for a starting spot.
Maple Grove's Kamery Garlick, a Minnesota All-Star, will be the starting center. John Marshall grad Ryan Just (6-5, 275) will be one starting guard and Atlanta's Darrell Brown (6-3 325) will be the other. Waseca's Devin Williams (6-5, 290) will start at one tackle spot.
Others looking for playing time including tackles Kyron Walker (6-7, 355) and Casey Paliagas (6-8, 330) and tackle/guard Byron Walkins (6-7, 355). Walker and Walkins are both from Atlanta.
Ryan Albuquerque of Wayzata returns after having a strong season a year ago. He will handle both the placekicking and punting duties.
In 2013 he scored 104 points as he made 18 of 30 field goals and 50 of 55 extra points.
Sophomore Chad Jno-Lewis (6-5, 245) is the lone key player back with experience. He played two years ago and has drawn Division I interest from Minnesota, Arkansas and Kansas.
"He's a high-level guy," Quistorff said.
Fazson Chapman of Chicago and Hunter Hauser are also Division I-caliber players. Chapman (6-3, 220) was referred to RCTC by Youngstown State. Hauser (6-4, 310) was a state champion wrestler in Wisconsin who turned down a chance to walk on at Purdue.
Kevin Agee (6-2, 250) is slated to play nose tackle while physical James Lassa moves to the line after coming in as a linebacker. Kelsey Boeck of Minneapolis is a sophomore who was a backup a year ago.
Trusty Sigmon (6-0, 240) joins the team from Alaska and is expected to play at tackle despite his lack of bulk.
Caledonia's Travis Frank (6-3, 228) was a full-time starter a year ago as safety. This year he moves to an outside linebacker spot. He has drawn some interest from Division I teams.
Domonique Young (6-foot, 236) of St. Louis also returns but he will be sidelined early in the year as he recovers from a broken leg. "He's a great leader," Quistorff said.
Undersized Alex Glomski (5-9, 200) returns after being the team's top tackler a year ago. The Wisconsin native might not start, but he will see plenty of action.
"He's a physical kid," Quistorff said. "He put in a lot of work in the offseason."
Mayo's Tommy Fjelsted and Stewartville's Cody Stanger are two area freshmen expected to come in and start. Fjelsted (6-2, 205) will play middle linebacker.
"He's our top linebacker," Quistorff said. "He's very physical, very quick and very football savvy."
Stanger (6-1, 200) will start at strong side linebacker. "He's fast and physical," Quistorff said.
Rosemount's Ryan Fox is also in the mix for playing time.
Larry Moore of Chicago returns as a starter at cornerback. Quistorff calls him a "physical, lock-down corner."
Daren Ardis will be the other starting cornerback. Ardis, who runs a sub-4.4 40, is from Manatee High School in Bradenton, Fla., which was ranked No. 1 in the nation last year.
Blake Weber (6-2, 220) of Prior Lake will start at safety. He was a Gophers recruit who could also play some wide receiver. He was first-team All-State in Minnesota. "He has great ball skills," Quistorff said.
Justin Mincy of Georgia will be the other starting safety. His brother, Jonathon, has been a three-year starter at Auburn and could be first-round NFL draft pick next spring. Justin could also be headed to Auburn when done at RCTC.
Cornerback/safety Andrew Bell returns as a backup while Diondre Green of Edina will push for time at safety. He is a transfer from Scottsdale C.C.