First practice: Monday, March 27
Scrimmage open to public: Friday, April 21, 7 p.m.
2017 Varsity Football Schedule
Sept. 2 – at Kansas Wesleyan University, TBA
Sept. 9 – vs. Ottawa University, 1 p.m. (Parents’ Day)
Sept. 16 – at Northwestern, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23 – vs. Doane, 1 p.m. (Homecoming)
Sept. 30 – at Hastings, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 – vs. Midland, 1 p.m.
Oct. 21 – at Dordt, 1 p.m.
Oct. 28 – vs. Dakota Wesleyan, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 – at Briar Cliff, TBA
Nov. 11 – vs. Morningside, 1 p.m. (Senior Day)
Patrick Daberkow has his elevator speech memorized. Accountability. Toughness. Authenticity. Those are characteristics Daberkow has already begun emphasizing since being named head football coach in December.
Now it gets real for Daberkow, who will whistle up his first official practice as head coach when the Bulldogs take the field, dark and early at 6 a.m. on Monday. For Daberkow, this is a dream come true. The 2006 Concordia grad couldn’t hide a wide grin on the day he was announced as the program’s 10th head coach. “It’s a good day when your cheeks hurt from smiling,” Daberkow tweeted back on Dec. 9. “Very grateful and excited to be the head football coach at Concordia.”
Now it’s time to get to work on the practice fields. The Bulldogs will have 15 spring practices and will hold their annual open spring scrimmage on Friday, April 21 at 7 p.m. Daberkow’s full-time coaching staff is in place. He elevated Corby Osten to defensive coordinator, promoted Wes Coomes to a full-time assistant position and brought in Boise State University alum Thomas Byrd to run the offense.
With that continuity on the staff, don’t expect a reinvention of the wheel in Seward. Said Daberkow, “There will probably be a little bit of a learning curve for that first practice, especially with us installing some new things offensively and defensively. Ultimately, we’re trying to get guys to finish. We want to be really good at the simple things in football, things like beating blocks and making tackles on defense and pursuing the football. Offensively, it’s about protecting the football and blocking through the whistle. That’s what it’s all about. That’s going to be the emphasis. It’s going to be simple and it will be very clear what our goals are.”
It's a little early to talk about goals for the 2017 season, which comes on the heels of a No. 19 final national ranking in 2016. A defense that returns only three starters will have to be developed and the quarterback situation isn’t likely to be finalized until the fall. The opening contest will be plenty challenging with a trip to Kansas Wesleyan University (ranked 17th in the final NAIA poll) on the docket.
Having spent seven seasons as defensive coordinator, Daberkow will have a watchful eye on a defensive unit that loses stars such as All-American Trey Barnes and a bevy of other all-conference performers like linebacker Michael Hedlund, defensive lineman Ron Jackson and defensive backs Cory Evans and Le’Dontrae Gooden.
“Spring ball is about forming an identity,” Daberkow said. “We’re going to work on some play calls that will work against anything. We should be able to feel confident no matter what the formation, no matter what the personnel set is. We’re developing some key positions. We have some defensive back positions and some defensive line positions especially that have questions that need to get answered. We only return three guys with starting experience. We’re going to have our hands full as far as being prepared. We have the guys in the room that we know can do it. They all know the standard. No one is batting an eye.”
On offense, it starts up front. Daberkow is making the offensive line priority No. 1. The big boys at the line of scrimmage don’t often get the glory, but Daberkow wants that to change. The offensive line will be one of the more experienced position groups on the team with senior center Austin Reese leading the way.
“I think it starts with having an aligned staff philosophy,” Daberkow said. “We all agree that you’re going to be as good as your offensive line no matter what scheme you run. If you’re sorry up front, you’re going to be sorry. We want to make this a destination place for offensive linemen. We’re going to treat the offensive line right.”
One thing Daberkow won’t let his linemen do is miss a workout, at least not without some sort of penalty. If a session is scheduled for 6 a.m., you better not show up at 6:01. It all ties into Daberkow’s emphasis on accountability. Concordia’s newest head coach has also made lifting more of a competition. On occasion, players might be tasked with picking who they believe will win in lifts such as plate holds. The losers better be ready to do up downs.
So far, many of the changes are beneath the surface. By September, the players will have had plenty of time to get accustomed to whatever tweaks are put in place. “There will be scheme and terminology adjustments,” Daberkow said of the offense. “We’ll have some of that, but we’re not going to be far off what we’ve done in the past. Some of the adjustments will be getting used to me as someone who is talking to them. We’ll do a lot of things that will be a little different as far as the makeup of practice and things like that.”
Now head coach, Daberkow may not have the flexibility to play pick-up basketball in the middle of the day with his fellow staff members. He didn’t get the invite recently when his assistants got after it on the hardwood. Daberkow simply laughed it off. “They said Coach Byrd tried to call a foul in the coaches pick-up basketball game. He’ll learn. Stuff like that doesn’t fly with us,” joked Daberkow.
What will fly at Concordia is the usual hard-working attitude that has defined the program for more than 90 years. Essentially, the motto this spring is to do simple better. Says Daberkow, “There’s no rocket science that we’ve added. It’s just a lot of simple things that I think are going to pay off.”
Both senior TJ Austin and junior Riley Wiltfong have considerable experience. Wiltfong was Concordia’s leading passer last year, completing 87-of-183 passes (.475) for 1,136 yards and 12 touchdowns to go against six interceptions. Daberkow says there will be an open competition with strong-armed junior Andrew Perea also in the mix.
The Bulldogs will say goodbye to the program’s second all-time leading rusher Bryce Collins, who piled up 3,547 yards and 35 touchdowns on the ground over his four seasons in Seward. The most experienced returner will be Doniphan, Neb., native Jordan Slough, who has 169 career rushing yards. Newcomers will have an opportunity to make an impact.
Jared Garcia will have a chance to claim every major school receiving record during his senior season. The two-time first team All-GPAC selection has caught 140 passes for 2,188 yards and 29 touchdowns during his first three years as a Bulldog. Trae Owens will depart, but Concordia brings back the likes of Vincent Beasley (seven catches, 61 yards) and Kiyoshi Brey (13 catches, 143 yards, two touchdowns).
This group will receive a major boost with the return to health of Seth Fitzke, a 2015 first team All-GPAC performer who missed last season due to a torn ACL. Fitzke is an excellent blocker and pass catcher with 31 career grabs for 263 yards and four touchdowns. Concordia will try to develop depth behind him.
The Bulldogs want to improve upon their 2016 yards per carry average of 4.0. It starts up front. The alignment has not been finalized, but last year’s right side of guard Matthew Romero (guard) and Grady Koch (tackle) are back in the fold after earning honorable mention All-GPAC accolades in 2016. Daberkow has raved about the offseason work of center Austin Reese. Concordia also will get a fifth year from tackle Hallick Lehmann, who was sidelined by injury for almost the entire 2016 season.
This position group has the biggest question marks of any. Starters Trey Barnes, Ron Jackson and Nolan Schroeder have all exhausted their eligibility. It’s almost a guarantee that new faces will be part of the equation. It will difficult to replace the production of Barnes, who totaled nine sacks and 22 tackles for loss as a senior.
The lone returning starter is junior Kordell Glause, who registered 44 tackles (six for loss) this past fall. Down the stretch in 2016, Daberkow employed three senior linebackers in his 3-4 defensive alignment. That group was headlined by first team All-GPAC tackling machine Michael Hedlund, who topped the conference with 107 stops. This is another spot to watch this spring.
Daberkow believes he has two potential All-America candidates in the defensive backfield with holdovers D’Mauria Martin and Tarence Roby, two of the top corners in the GPAC. It’s possible Martin could be moved around to accommodate Sebastian Garces at one of the corner spots. This unit loses both 2016 starting safeties, but is by far the most experienced grouping on defense.
Transfer Brendan Cremin could take over the place kicking duties on a full-time capacity after splitting the role with Jose Garcia in 2016. Cremin went 3-for-5 with a long of 42 on field goals in his first year as a Bulldog. Concordia will have to replace Barnes (40.7 average), who was the GPAC’s top punter last season. In the return game, Garcia (punt returner) and Roby (kick returner) provide game-changing ability. Roby averaged 27.7 yards per return while taking one kick 91 yards for a touchdown in 2016.