“After we ordered, he looked at us and laughed like, ‘You don’t understand how big these pancakes are,’ ” the Minnesota State Moorhead head football coach said.
Matt Baasch, a Dragons assistant coach, did most of the talking at the breakfast gathering, while Laqua dined. The donor was shocked to see that Laqua finished the hotcakes, which were so large they draped over the edge of the plate.
“I looked him dead in the eye and I said ‘I don’t quit on anything. We’re going to get this fixed,’ ” Laqua said. “That was about all I said. I think it made the point. … One bite at a time gets you to where you need to be.”
Laqua told that story to illustrate how MSUM has increased its scholarship money over the past four years. Since he took over the football program in 2011, the money allocated for scholarships has more than doubled.
The Dragons offered $314,960 this past season, the equivalent of nearly 20 scholarships, according to information The Forum received through an open records request. Those numbers were $132,000 and 9.29 in Laqua’s first season. Those totals are expected to grow to more than $384,000 and 24 by next season.
“It’s exciting,” Laqua said. “It’s been a long four years of going out into games and feeling like you’re fighting with at least on arm tied behind your back.”
The Dragons expect to sign more than 20 players on Wednesday’s national signing day. MSUM has steadily climbed toward the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference maximum of 28 scholarships in football since Laqua was hired as head coach.
Dragons athletic director Doug Peters said the plan is to reach the league limit of 28 by the 2016 season.
“I do feel like we have some great momentum,” Peters said. “We’re starting to see some of the seeds sprout from that hard work that we have put in.”
Increasing the four-year commitments (a person pledging an annual dollar amount for four years) is an example of the “one-bite-at-a-time” approach that MSUM has used to chip away at its scholarship “pancake.”
When Laqua took over the program, there were around 20 people giving money. Now, there are 120, both former players and supporters of football, who have four-year pledges for football scholarships.
“When you’re climbing to the top of a conference, then you’ve got to keep doing things better,” Laqua said. “And if you don’t, you just stay where you are.”
The fundraising success is starting to show on the field. The Dragons have posted 4-7 records in each of the past two seasons.
That is the first time MSUM has had back-to-back seasons of at least four victories since 2006 and 2007.
Now, the bar is being set higher.
“We’re at a point now where there is some expectation, both internally and externally, about how we do,” Peters said. “We all feel that 4-7 isn’t good enough. That is not what we’re aspiring to do.”
The Dragons will have new artificial grass at Alex Nemzek Stadium next fall, thanks to a $1 million donation from Scheels. New lights are also being added to the stadium.
“Those are positive things that have kind of built upon each other and snowballed,” Laqua said. “I want the bar of expectation to be as high as it can be. That is what competitors want. … The bar keeps getting raised for how good you have to be.”