SEWARD, Neb. – For the majority of Friday evening’s spring scrimmage, the Concordia University football team looked very little like the one that last appeared in the fall in an official game. Proven commodities such as running back Ryan Durdon spent most of the crisp spring evening watching from the sidelines. Now in his second season as head coach, Patrick Daberkow preferred to get a long look at some of the younger, still developing players.
There have been plenty of moving parts this spring for a group still looking for growth between now and September.
“A lot of guys who made a lot of plays last year are not here anymore,” Daberkow said. “We saw a lot of fresh faces making plays tonight and it was good to see. A lot of them made significant improvements and some good leaps over the offseason with our strength and conditioning program.”
Durdon and receivers Vincent Beasley and Lane Castaneda got only one offensive series on Friday night. In addition, starting tackle Grady Koch is away from the team while student teaching in St. Louis. Not so surprisingly, the defensive side of the ball had the upper hand in front of a crowd of a perhaps a few hundred fans. This isn’t necessarily the time of year when coaches like to single out specific individuals, but Daberkow already has high praise for defensive back Darius McVay, who is a sophomore-to-be.
Opportunity knocks for McVay and other youngsters in a secondary that tries to recover from the losses of first team All-GPAC stars D’Mauria Martin and Tarence Roby.
“It was a little bit one-sided tonight,” Daberkow said. “Defensively, I really love what we’re doing. We’re flying to the football. A guy who has had an incredible spring is Darius McVay. He’ll come into a role next fall where he’ll be a playmaker for us … I was really impressed with our open field tackling tonight. It was good to see the defense flying around and making plays in the open field.”
While the youth movement takes hold in the defensive backfield featuring the likes of McVay and Davonte Mouton (the holdover is stalwart Nate Gilmore), the offense also rolled out a new wave of up-and-comers at the skill positions. It appears that Daberkow may have more depth at the running back spot. Sophomores-to-be Payton Kidder and Atanasio Simba got the bulk of the carries on Friday. The contrasts are obvious, Kidder at 6-foot-1 and Simba at 5-foot-6.
Daberkow confirmed afterwards that the battle at the quarterback position remains unsolved. Three signal callers did their best to impress the coaching staff throughout the spring. The current group includes Blake Culbert, Jake Kemp and Andrew Perea. The latter is the only one with varsity game experience. It hasn’t been ruled out that the starter could wind up coming out of a pool of newcomers.
The winner of the quarterback derby will no longer have record-breaking receiver Jared Garcia to rely on in the passing game, but there is optimism that other weapons will emerge. Seward High School product Brady Fitzke possesses exciting potential. He lined up in the slot extensively on Friday. He will be more than just a special teams contributor in 2018.
“He’s kind of our Swiss army knife right now,” Daberkow said. “We’ll line him up at tight end, we’ll use him as a lead blocker on some plays out of the backfield and then we’ll throw him at slot receiver. He’s a good blocker. We can do a lot of stuff with him.”
A former seven-year defensive coordinator under previous head coach Vance Winter, Daberkow has adjusted to more of an influential role with the offensive group. There are likely to be tweaks here and there, but a reliance on power running should continue with Durdon back in the fold to go along with a rising group of younger runners.
On the defensive side of the ball, Concordia hasn’t changed a whole lot over the past decade. Corby Osten now enters his second season as a coordinator. His side of the ball will be paced by a linebacker group that looks nasty. The LB crew got a shot-in-the-arm this spring with the return to health of Terrell Pearson, who suffered a season-ending injury in the 2017 opener at Kansas Wesleyan. The headliner of the group is returning first team all-conference performer Lane Napier.
Friday’s scrimmage lasted roughly an hour-and-15 minutes. No score was kept. Offensive players wore white jerseys while the defensive players donned navy.
A lot of the same storylines will re-emerge in the fall. Who will start at quarterback? Who will be the primary receiving threat? Who’s the next out-of-nowhere star on defense? Who will kick field goals? How will a young secondary hold up?
Thankfully, there’s plenty of time to answer such questions. Said Daberkow, “There are a lot of things that are different, namely we have a lot of new faces.
“Some of what we’re doing in the spring is experimental. If you’re going to try some new things, spring is the time to do it. In the fall we’re getting ready for our week one opponent. It’s so vital because we really workshopped a lot of stuff. We’ll go into meetings next week as a staff and say this is what we like and this is what we don’t like. We’ll formulate the playbook and move forward from there.”
The Bulldogs will host another intrasquad scrimmage during fall camp. Fans are invited to attend the Blue-White scrimmage at 7 p.m. CT on Aug. 17. The 2018 season will officially get started on Saturday, Sept. 8 when NCAA Division III Buena Vista University (Iowa) makes a visit to Bulldog Stadium. View the complete schedule HERE.