Vance Winter breaks down 2014 Concordia football
Concordia University head football coach Vance Winter sat down for a pre-camp interview on July 8 to discuss the 2014 Bulldogs and the upward trajectory of the program. Below is the transcript from that interview.
Taking the next step
I think there’s a level of expectation in terms of what we can be. We were all disappointed with some of the close losses we had last season, but we also know that for us taking the next step is a lot harder. There are enough steps and challenges going from being bad to OK, but taking the next step from being OK to being a playoff contender is difficult. That’s our goal. We still have work to do to get there.
It’s a great hardworking group. I think they’re showing personality and commitment by the amount of guys that stuck around here this summer. There’s a lot of talent in that group. We’re excited to see. There are also some guys who have been unsung guys who maybe have not played that much and have been behind really good players. Now they’re getting an opportunity show what they’ve got this fall. That’s exciting to see. They’re guys who have continued to work hard and plug away. We’re going to have an experienced football team.
Von Thomas growth
I’m more impressed and more proud of him for an outside-of-football maturation standpoint. He’s grown as a person. The talent’s always been there. You never know how a guy’s going to perform under pressure situations. He shows toughness, work ethic – all those characteristics. He’s shown all those things. That’s the exciting thing. The fun thing about coaching him is seeing his tenacity, the work ethic and the will to win. I’d like to see him lift a little bit more weight. He thinks his arms are pretty big. In terms of the other things, he’s a guy that busts his butt and competes hard for his teammates. We have a lot of guys like that.
They’ve both (Bryce Collins and Trey Barnes) had a great offseason and worked very hard. Bryce has put on some weight and is really explosive in the weight room, doing some great things out here every week. Trey is also continuing to gain size and strength. That hurt us quite a bit when Trey got hurt towards midseason. They were a great duo. We’re also excited about some of the other backs that have stepped up. One guy in particular is Demarques Saulberry who I think from last fall to now is one of the most improved players on our team.
We were pleased with those guys in the spring. I think we’ve got a group that’s physical and continues to get better. It’s not very often you get a chance to grow and play in a couple-year period with a group of guys. They had a good spring. I was really pleased with the physical mindset and the change that occurred with that group this spring. They’re getting more and more comfortable with what they’re supposed to be doing. I also think there’s some great depth behind those guys. I think in those 8-9-10 guys there are some that are really going to compete for spots.
There’s some talent in that group. We’re excited. The thing is we’re going to be young and inexperienced there. We lost Jeff Balz and Derek Klaus who were mainstays for us the past two years at receiver. I’m excited to see some of the guys step up that went through this spring. We have a lot of talent but it’s inexperienced talent. We’ll just see how it goes and it how it turns out. There’s some ability there. We need to be more explosive in the passing game. Our longest play last season was 39 yards. It’s great we’re efficient. It’s great we’re getting first downs but we’d like to see some guys with some explosive capabilities on the perimeter make some big plays. I think there are some guys that can do it.
This spring Jared Garcia and Riley Herren were two guys I thought really stepped up. There were some other guys who were kind of inconsistent throughout. I think we have some freshmen that are going to be really talented.
(Josh) Slechta going into his junior year we expect him to really come into his own and be the consistently dominant player he can be. All the tools are there and he’s shown a lot of great things. We’re really excited about him becoming a dominant player.
Balance-wise, we’re going to use Coach (Curran) White’s philosophy: take what the defense gives you. We’ve been really efficient. Our third down conversions, running the ball and all those things – were very efficient – the amount first downs we got. That’s kind of our mantra. In the games we struggled we weren’t very good in those areas. We have to be efficient on offense. We have to convert third downs. We have to take care of the football. When we do that we’re pretty good. If we can make more explosive plays we have a chance to be pretty good.
That was exciting to watch in the spring. Those guys really got after it. That’s a group that could be very good. It’s a physical group. I think Michael Gill has a chance to be really, really good. He’s a very strong explosive guy. Kyle (Rakow) and Alex (Melius) have played a lot of football. I’d like to see both of those guys step up and make more plays rushing the passer and get a few more sacks. They’ve been really solid players. I think with Kyle he’s getting into position and not finishing plays sometimes. Ron Jackson was really impressive all spring. He’s a converted o-lineman type guy. He’s a big physical nose guard that we haven’t had for a while.
I was pleased with how they played in the spring. It was one of those areas where we had some question marks going into the spring but if those guys continue to improve at the rate they did in the spring, we’re going to be fine. I think Nakemm coming back more experienced and having a defined role – I think he’s going to have a good year. I thought Michael Carroll was one of our best players in the spring. He’s a guy who’s been chomping at the bit for an opportunity. He was outstanding in the spring. There are other guys like Geoff Kleinschmitt who did some nice things. We moved some things around but I thought from a consistency standpoint throughout the spring we were very pleased with how they played.
Drew Baxter, we moved him back to safety from outside linebacker last year. He competed like crazy with a broken hand the last six games. He’s moving back to safety which is his natural position. Tait Sibbel is back. He’s going into his junior year and his third year as a starter. Those two guys give you a lot of confidence back there. They’re going to do the right thing, get our defense lined up right, communicate well and be physical guys in the back end. Landon Oelke has been our junkyard dog. He’s just a really good football player. We feel comfortable lining him at a lot spots.
We’ve come a long way and we’re definitely proud of the fact that we keep getting better every year and we’re getting the right type of people. I’m proud of our staff. I think our staff’s as good as there is in America. They work and they put in a ton of time. It’s not just football time. They’re putting in time bettering these guys. I think our staff is a phenomenal staff. I think as a group we’ve meshed and we’re real comfortable with what each other’s doing. We like to compete. I’m proud of how we’ve built that up and I feel like we’re in the right place there. Going into last season we had high goals and we didn’t quite reach them. That’s going to be the same going into this year.
We’re focused on every week and being consistent week in and week out. I think those are areas we can improve on and be better. Looking back on last year, it was exciting to see our senior group and those who have worked so hard, go out winners. They deserved it. There have been other classes too before it that deserved to go out winners and it just didn’t work out for them. This group really worked their tails off and were really committed. There’s also that tinge of disappointment in that we were so close to playing more. That’s where we’re at. We have to be a team that plays with a chip on its shoulder and not rest on anything. I think that’s been the mindset since spring and offseason. We’re out there to prove that we can be a consistent, very good program.
I looked at it a little bit and I know how it lays out because it’s very similar to last year. I know what we have in front of us in week one. I’ve watched enough film of Sterling to know how good a team and program they are. They’re really a legit team. It’s going to be a great challenge. I know our guys are excited. Our guys have seen the type of athletes they have on film. It’s a conference champ from last year.
We haven’t backed away too much in scheduling. We want to continue to challenge ourselves and play great programs. This is another great opportunity.
Past that I look at every week as a challenging game. We have to prepare every week and prepare to be 1-0 every week. We don’t get too far out in front. Our focus right now is Sterling and putting our best effort forth on Sept. 6.
9 July 2014