St. Paul Pioneers celebrate – and look forward to – great things

The two-time NEFL Champion St. Paul Pioneers recently looked back on an incredible 2011 season – while also looking ahead to building an even better team in 2012.

First, some reflections on 2011, another championship year:
Wide receiver Joseph Mapson was named the Pioneers’ Most Valuable Player. The Concordia University- St. Paul standout played receiver, punt returner and even quarterback at times for the cardinal and black. Mapson proves his value every year, but he came through with perhaps the season’s most sensational play with a leaping, twisting and falling touchdown grab against the Chippewa Valley Predators in the 2011 Elite Bowl to give the Pioneers a lead they would never relinquish in a 15-0 win.  Mapson was also named co-player of the year for the NEFL.

Defensive tackle Jeff McGaster, a Pioneers dominating force since joining the team in 2008, was named Defensive Most Valuable Player. Jeff had 10 sacks, 60 tackles, an interception and a blocked field goal in seven games. More importantly, he is a game-changer that forces the other team to double-team him if they hope to do anything on offense. McGaster was also awarded Defensive Player of the Year for the NEFL National Conference.

Wideout Reggie Houston is the 2011 St. Paul Pioneers Offensive Most Valuable Player. Houston led the league in receiving yards and proved, time and again, almost impossible to contain – either going across the middle or streaking down the field. Houston also led the Pioneers in touchdowns in 2011, proving to be a big-money player when the game was on the line. Houston was also named the Offensive Player of the Year for the NEFL National Conference.

Human projectile Vanoka Washington was named the Pioneers Special Teams Most Valuable Player.  Washington, who had never before played organized football, showed fearlessness and ferocity on the Pioneers kicking units, destroying opposing return men and giving St. Paul terrific field position.

Martell Lightfoot was named the Pioneers Rookie of the Year. The 6-8, 380-pound tackle became a force on the Pioneers offensive line and a scourge to opposing field goal kickers. Lightfoot blocked two field goals in the NEFL semi-final win over the Minnesota Dragons and another in the championship game against the Chippewa Valley Predators.

Joseph Ubani was named the 2011 Pioneers President’s Award winner. Ubani, a tight end and member of the team’s board of directors, was a leader on the field and off for the Pioneers, helping keep things moving smoothly toward the team’s third championship in a row, counting the 2009 NAFL National Championship.

The 2011 Pioneer Award winner was Nate Beulah Jr., a punishing and ball-hawking safety who overcame personal adversity and a loss in his family to lead the Pioneers by his unrelenting play and his indomitable spirit. Beulah, a graduate of Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., came on like a maniac in the 2011 playoffs, willing the Pioneers defense to victory with several huge games.

Defensive back Terry Jones led the Pioneers in interceptions in 2011. Defensive End Cliff Gordy had the most sacks and linebacker John Robinson had the most tackles. On offense, Houston had the most touchdowns, C.J. Sanderson was voted the top offensive lineman and Deshay Hudson was the team’s leading rusher.

Twelve Pioneers were named to the NEFL all-star team: Mapson, Houston, Hudson, Jones, safety Darrell Young, offensive lineman Zac Thompson, Sanderson, Robinson, McGaster, Gordy, kicker Jay Harding and long-snapper Kyle Stelter.

And, now, the look ahead:

The Pioneers will have tryouts in January and February. Stay tuned for dates and times.

Helping the team in 2012 will be Dave Adams, an experienced coach who has been a high school head coach, as well as a college assistant at Minnesota State University-Mankato and at Rochester Community and Technical College.

Adams will serve as a defensive assistant, primarily working with linebackers. But he has also coached special teams and the defensive line and will be called upon to help boost the Pioneers’ defense in multiple ways.

Adams, a training and operations officer in the National Guard, brings a great passion and enthusiasm for the game of football and helped mold several top-notch defenses on championship teams. In 2005-06, he was the head football coach at Wabasha-Kellogg High School. In 2007, he served as defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at RCTC.

“We are extremely fortunate to have someone of Dave’s caliber and experience join an already impressive defensive coaching staff,” Pioneers Head Coach Mark Heiser said. “Guys like Kahn Powell, Scott Sether, Adam Gard and Diggz Garza have already helped our defense become the best in the league. Dave will make us even better.”

Pioneers defensive coordinator Jim Walsh said Adams is already champing at the bit to get started working with the Men in Black defense and with the team’s linebacking corps. “Dave is just a really impressive guy, who I know our players will enjoy working with,” Walsh said. “His enthusiasm is infectious. We can’t wait to get started.”