When Doug Peters takes a stroll on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus these days, it’s not uncommon for a student to yell at him: “fired up.”
Such notoriety is a product of social media. Peters, MSUM’s athletic director for the past eight years, has become a Twitter aficionado – signing many of his tweets with a #firedup hashtag in reference to the school’s Dragons nickname.
“I’m just trying to connect with the student-athletes,” Peters said.
“It’s kind of crazy it has taken off in so many ways. It has taken on a life of its own.”
So too has the MSUM athletic department that Peters oversees. There certainly has been plenty to chirp about ever since Peters started his job on June 12, 2007.
For starters, funding for athletic scholarships has more than doubled – climbing from $434,000 to just over $1 million. Nearly $1 million in upgrades have spruced up Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse. A $1 million gift from Scheels will provide Alex Nemzek Stadium with new turf and new lights.
And just last Saturday in Nemzek Fieldhouse, the men’s basketball team entertained a full house with a 76-72 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato. That team has lost only once this season and is ranked No. 7 nationally in NCAA Division II.
“My heart is still pounding,” tweeted MSUM president Anne Blackhurst after the game in which she snapped a selfie with the rabid student section.
A full house. A president cheering – let alone even attending a game. Basketball games that are being televised. Alumni willing to donate their hard-earned money.
Yes, things are changing at MSUM, and the 42-year-old Peters is a big reason why.
Ross Fortier, former MSUM athletic director and football coach who still sits on MSUM’s foundation board, is certainly impressed with what Peters has accomplished in the past eight years.
“I think he has done an outstanding job in a lot of different areas,” Fortier said, citing Peters’ ability to convince the previous president the importance of athletics, to raise funds from big corporations and more alumni and his ability to portray a good image for the school. “I’m impressed with him pulling the whole thing together.”
It’s all part of Peters’ goal to make MSUM one of premier Division II athletic programs in the country. The men’s basketball program is certainly getting there, but football still has a ways to go. So just how close does Peters think the school is to reaching his lofty goal?
“We are closer to it than we are farther away from it,” Peters said. “We are past the midpoint. We have taken some pretty quick steps to get where we are now, but the hardest steps are coming.
“Let me put it this way: I’m happily dissatisfied. I’m happy with what we have done but we are not where we want to be.”
Alumni – many who were completely alienated by the previous two athletic directors – are taking notice. In football alone, the number of former players who have signed up for four-year pledges has increased from 20 to nearly 120.
When Peters was searching for a football coach four years ago, he recruited former players for his search committee. It was the old “word-of-mouth” philosophy – which Peters describes as a powerful thing.
“Those guys have a lot more credibility with their peers than I ever will,” said Peters, whose own credibility has gotten stronger.
And it shows on Twitter, where he posted last weekend one of his many philosophical tweets: “Think big and don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done. Life’s too short to think small.”
#firedup is certainly thinking big for MSUM athletics.