Chad Courrier: It's nice to get started with Mavericks' practice

·2 min read

Aug. 5—When the Minnesota State football team reported to fall practice, there was always plenty of excitement.

It also meant that Minnesota Vikings training camp was about to end, which was even more exciting.

The Vikings training camp was an asset to Mankato for more than 50 years. The local fans benefited. The businesses benefited. Minnesota State benefited.

But, man, it's nice for veteran sportswriters that they no longer practice here.

The Vikings started training camp last week at their glitzy facility in Eagan. It's an exciting time for many in the state, with fans hoping that this will finally be the year that the Lombardi Trophy will find a home in Minnesota.

Probably not, but that guess is based more on the franchise's track record than an in-depth look at the new general manager, coaching staff, roster and schedule.

When the Vikings first trained in Mankato, it was much more casual. You could talk with players along the street. You might even see some around town, especially if you frequented the bars and restaurants.

The coaches were more at ease, and covering the day's practice was simple.

But as the NFL started becoming more concerned about security, and coaches — starting with Denny Green — got more paranoid, the whole event became more restrictive. Former owner Red McCombs tried a little too hard to monetize those practices, which made it less and less interesting as the years went along.

At some point, coaches recognized, or were told, that actual football situations brought a higher risk of injury, and the players union was successful in taking much of the contact out of practice.

Now, drills have replaced real football, making the two-hour practices almost impossible to watch. You can glean almost nothing useful from the practices.

Minnesota State football practices are so much more casual, though the action on the field is more intense. There's actually some contact, though the Mavericks try to limit injury potential, too.

You can watch the action, maybe even make some short videos, without running into security personnel.

The coaches and players seem to appreciate your presence, and interviews are far less scripted. You can have a casual conversation with a player or coach, just to see how everyone is doing.

Maybe, it's that attitude that makes small-college football so much more fun than the pros or the Division I snobs.

For the next three weeks, the Mavericks will be practicing real football, trying to shed the sour memories of 2021's struggles and get ready for a killer opening three weeks to the 2022 schedule.

It's an exciting time for the Minnesota State football program, not just because it means the other purple team is leaving.

Chad Courrier is the Free Press sports editor. He's at 507-344-6353, ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com or on Twitter @ChadCourrier.