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Winona State University (WSU) has been tabbed for third place in their division and fifth place overall in the 2021 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) Football Poll, as released on Tuesday, Aug. 3. The Warriors earned 26 points in South Division voting and 126 points total, including one first-place vote. 

Defensive standout Cam Gavin also was named as the NSIC South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, as selected by NSIC coaches. Gavin and quarterback Owen Burke were tabbed as the Winona State Players to Watch by the NSIC, as they lead their team into the 2021 Winona State campaign. 

Longtime Winona State football coach Tom Sawyer has announced he will retire at the conclusion of the WSU 2021 season and the Warriors are looking to send Sawyer out in style. 

Sawyer has been the head coach at Winona State for 25 years, one of the longest-tenured coaches in NCAA Division II football and is the dean of coaches across the NSIC. Sawyer sits at 190-85 overall and led his team to the 2019 Mineral Water Bowl, the program’s 11th post-season appearance. 

Fittingly, a veteran roster will take on the task of Sawyers’ successful swan song, with several impactful returners lining up on both sides of the ball.  

Leading the Warrior offensive, Owen Burke returns for his final season, under the tutelage of offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Cameron Keller. The pair have helped lead WSU to back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2018 and 2019. 

Burke has thrown for 42 touchdown passes in his career and will enjoy a receiving corps led by Jake Balliu and Tyler Anderson, both senior standouts who had solid 2019 campaigns. Sam Santiago-Lloyd leads the way from the backfield, having earned All-NSIC South Team accolades in 2019, running for 956 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Other Warriors on the offensive side of the ball that have the coaching staff excited about the upcoming season are Tyler Knutson, Jaylen Schleicher and Javian Roebuck.  

Knutson has recorded 23 catches so far in his career with a pair of touchdown grabs, while Schleicher is expected to be a force at tight end. Roebuck adds another dimension to the WSU ground attack and was a 2017 All-NSIC First Team selection in his first season in Winona. The former Glendale (Ariz.) Community College standout has amassed 1,277 rushing yards and 109 receiving yards at Winona State, scoring 11 Warrior touchdowns along the way. 

Defensively, Cam Gavin will look to continue his ball-hawking ways in 2021, bringing a combination of tackling prowess and pass disruption skills that helped him earn his impressive preseason accolades. 

On the defensive line, Winona State will enjoy the presence of Luc Leszczynski, a CoSIDA Academic All-American, who sets the edge for the WSU defensive front. The Warrior coaching staff is also excited about the off-season development of Carter Duxbury, a linebacker who has used the extended break from competition to heal up some nagging injuries and looks ready to fire on all cylinders this fall.  

Additionally, Devon Moore and Cole LaLiberty look to factor as key instruments in the Warrior defense, a unit led by experienced defensive coordinator Brian Curtin, a fixture on the WSU staff since 1997.  

Moore, a senior linebacker from Chicago, has racked up 96 tackles so far as a Warrior and has 14 tackles for loss over that stretch, including 3.5 sacks. Much like the offensive one-two punch of Santiago-Lloyd and Roebuck at running back, LaLiberty combines with Leszczynski on the Warrior defensive line to bottle up opposing running backs and harass quarterbacks. The Chetek, Wis., product earned All-NSIC South Honorable Mention in 2019, despite missing the last three games due to the injury. 

In terms of special teams play, WSU fans will look to the electric Jake Balliu in the punt-returning department. The senior sparkplug has already accrued 1,124 yards in punt returns in his career. Kicking and punting duties have yet to be determined, as a handful of newcomers will vie for those important roles in preseason camp. 

Winona State finished the 2019 season at 8-4 overall, 8-3 in the NSIC. 

WSU reported for preseason camp on Sunday, August 8, and will open up the season under the lights of Maxwell Field at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 2, at  7 p.m.

For the most up to date news in Warrior Athletics, please visit: www.WinonaStateWarriors.com and @WinonaStateATH.