Tribune Notebook: Willmar Mud Dawgs ready to debut

Apr. 23—WILLMAR — It's been a year in the making for the Willmar Mud Dawgs amateur football team to make their debut.

The wait finally ends on Saturday when the Mud Dawgs open the 2024 season against the Buffalo Ridge Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at the Marshall Regional Track and Field Complex.

"Last summer, we started building for this year," said Mud Dawgs team owner/general manager Tim Jackson. "So we rebranded and we wanted to get Willmar players and get local players.

"Our team is looking good. We got some young guys mixed in with some veterans."

The team was formerly the Minnesota Mud Dawgs based in St. Cloud. Last summer, the Mud Dawgs announced plans to move to Willmar.

The team's rebranding has included new colors — going from orange and brown to red, black and white — and a new logo. The team has also introduced a new mascot, Mojo. Jackson hopes to have a Meet the Team event in the future.

Willmar plays 9-man football in the Southern Plains Football League. In their final season in St. Cloud, the Mud Dawgs went 3-6.

The team has 39 players on its roster. Jarrett McAllister is the Mud Dawgs' head coach. Jeremy Schuett is the offensive coordinator and Rene Vallejo is the defensive coordinator.

Two of the new starters are 2023 Willmar High School grads in linebacker Mattix Swanson and wide receiver Justuce Gee. Other local talents include lineman Humberto Castillo (Montevideo), receiver Rheis Stanley (Montevideo) and linebacker Maverick Whitcomb (Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City). Jackson said players are coming in from as far as the Twin Cities and Fargo.

"We've been getting 25-to-30 guys together since February pretty consistently," Jackson said. "We went down to U.S. Bank Stadium in December to play a game there and won that game. Then we had a preseason game on April 6 against an 11-man team."

Willmar has its home opener on Saturday, May 11 against the Watertown Rebels at the turf fields between the Willmar Civic Center and Willmar High School.

"We got some good buzz," Jackson said. "In our preseason game, we had 100 people and we didn't really promote it because it was a preseason game and it was super windy, too.

"For our first home game, hopefully we have a bunch of fans."

Along with bringing football to Willmar, Jackson views the Mud Dawgs as a mentorship program.

"We're getting kids into college and getting kids into good jobs," Jackson said. "I have an open-door policy so any of the kids so any of the kids can come out, if they have anything going on in life or whatever, I try to be a mentor to them all. That's where my passion is: to mentor these kids and help them become pillars in the community."


Three Ridgewater athletes, Sam Etterman, Jasmine Knick and Ella Filk, were named Athletes of the Week by the Minnesota College Athletic Conference.

Etterman, a sophomore from Willmar, was named the MCAC Central Division Baseball Position Player of the Week. He had a .411 batting average (7-for-17) last week with a home run, two doubles, six RBIs and nine runs scored. He also made an impact on the mound with a complete-game victory over Minnesota State-Fergus Falls on Saturday. He struck out five while allowing three hits and no walks.

This season, Etterman is hitting .351 with seven doubles, two triples, a home run, 17 RBIs and 38 runs scored for the 12-12 Warriors. Etterman is also the team's top pitcher with a 4-1 record with four complete games. He's sporting a 5.33 ERA with 22 strikeouts against seven walks in 27 innings.

Knick, a sophomore from Glencoe-Silver Lake, was named the MCAC South Division Softball Pitcher of the Week. Knick got a win in her lone start, a 9-6 win over Minnesota West on Saturday. He struck out 11 while allowing six runs on six hits and two walks in a complete-game victory.

In 13 appearances this season, Knick is 2-4 with a 6.34 ERA, 37 strikeouts against 17 walks in 53 innings.

Filk, a freshman from Hutchinson, earned the MCAC South Division Softball Position Player of the Week. The Warriors' third baseman, Filk was a perfect 7-for-7 with two home runs, a double, six RBIs and four runs.

Filk has a .465 average with two doubles, three home runs, 17 RBIs and 14 runs scored. Ridgewater has a 6-8 record.

Here are this week's Central Lakes Conference Performers of the Week, announced on Monday:

* From Sartell, baseball player Wesley Johnson, softball players Keely Guggisberg and Maddy Smith, boys track and field athlete Baylor Stebbins, girls track and field athlete Carson Andel and Shayla Nordlund and boys tennis player Jaden Otto;

* From St. Cloud, baseball player Drew Lieser and boys tennis player Charles Simon;

* From Brainerd, boys track and field athlete Dylan Gross.