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Sycamore graduate battles for starting QB spot at North Dakota

Ryan Bartels (left), a Sycamore graduate, has been the primary quarterback for the University of North Dakota football team.
Ryan Bartels (left), a Sycamore graduate, has been the primary quarterback for the University of North Dakota football team.

When Ryan Bartels signed with North Dakota, there was a reason he didn’t mind playing for a program located 10 hours from home.

Bartels, a three-year starter at quarterback for Sycamore from 2009 to 2011, was willing to deal with the harsh, cold winters that are always present in Grand Forks, N.D., a city of about 50,000 people that lies on the Minnesota border.

“They’re not easy winters and I don’t get to see my family that often,” Bartels said. “It’s been nice this season, I got a couple family members to come to my games.”

After visiting the school in November 2011, Bartels got to know the players and felt North Dakota was a good fit. He also knew he would have a chance to play early, which he sites as a big reason for signing there.

Bartels redshirted last season, but is getting a chance to prove himself now.

He started the season opener against Valparaiso and on his first career pass, Bartels launched a 75-yard touchdown pass.

However, Bartels has been splitting time with fellow redshirt freshman Joe Mollberg, and coach Chris Mussman still hasn’t named a permanent starter.

Bartels and Mollberg have each started two games. In UND’s 63-20 loss to Montana State on Saturday, Bartels got the majority of the playing time in the first half, while he and Mollberg each had two series in the second half.

It’s not an ideal situation, and Bartels said he has to prepare like he’s going to take every snap. Mussman hasn’t determined which quarterback will start this week’s game against Idaho State.

Bartels has completed 59 percent of his passes for 452 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Mollberg also has a 59 percent completion percentage, with 627 yards, five touchdowns and four picks.

“They’re going to keep evaluating us, and seeing what we’re going to do,” Bartels said. “I’m not sure what they’re going to do.”

In preparation for the quarterback competition in fall camp, Bartels stayed in Grand Forks for strength and conditioning and 7-on-7s. He was only in Sycamore for a week, which he said was tough, not getting a ton of time with friends, but something which had to be done to fight for the starting job.

“As a redshirt, you don’t really know the guys that well,” Bartels said. “... I think that was the biggest thing this summer was getting to know the guys and getting comfortable around them.”

Sycamore coach Joe Ryan is following Bartels’ collegiate career, not only because he’s a former player, but because the two have had a good relationship ever since Bartels was at Sycamore.

Ryan doesn’t doubt that Bartels can be a good college quarterback.

“There’s two things. One, he’s a film junkie, he really understands the game because he’s watching so much film. He really understands what he’s seeing,” Ryan said. “Two, he’s got a big-time arm, he can make all the throws.”

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