At a glance:
2011 Record: 4-7 Overall; 3-6 Great Plains Athletic Conference
Head Coach: Vance Winter
Record at School: 11-21 (three years)
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6, Special Teams – 2
Key Offensive Returners: OL Adam Faulstich, RB Aaron Gillory, QB Justin Haun, OL Dylan Klassen, WR Colten Quinabo, QB Von Thomas, K Kenny Zoeller
Key Defensive Returners: S Drew Baxter, CB Derek Blessing, OLB Dylan Heithoff, ILB Langston Jones, ILB Kyle Little, OLB Tom Malander, DL Michael Voelker, CB Darnell Woods
Key Losses: RB Ryan Adams, LB Jerrod Fleming, DB Benjamin Klein, DL Derek Rodine, QB Cohl Tufford, OL Charles Washington
2011 GPAC All-Conference (*denotes returnee): Ryan Adams (Honorable Mention), Heath Broekemeier (Honorable Mention), Jerrod Fleming (First Team), *Dylan Heithoff (Second Team), *Langston Jones (Honorable Mention), Benjamin Klein (First Team), *Tom Malander (Honorable Mention), Derek Rodine (Second Team), Nate Sindt (Honorable Mention), *Michael Voelker (Honorable Mention), Charles Washington (Second Team), Darnell Woods (Honorable Mention)
The buzz surrounding Bulldog football since spring camp has centered largely upon the new offensive scheme brought in by first-year offensive coordinator Curran White, who previously served as the offensive line coach/run game coordinator at Missouri Valley College. Gone is the triple option in favor of a more wide-open spread offense.
“I thought our transition was overwhelmingly positive in the spring,” head coach Vance Winter said. “We didn’t know how it was going to go in terms of installing an entire system in the spring, and Coach White was hired in March. It was hectic and fast. Our guys did a great job in learning the system.
“It was by far our best spring since we’ve been here.”
The Bulldogs hope this approach helps them improve upon last season’s averages of 16.7 points and 249.5 yards of total offense per game during a 4-7 2011 season that included a 3-6 Great Plains Athletic Conference mark. Concordia especially struggled down the stretch, losing its last five games in which it managed to score a combined 40 points.
Within their new offensive style, the Bulldogs hope to get the ball in the hands of 6-foot senior receiver Colten Quinabo more often. The Wailuku, Hawaii, native caught 18 passes for a team-leading 253 yards during his junior campaign in 2011. Quinabo had his best day against then No. 6-ranked Morningside on Nov. 5 when he hauled in six catches for 100 yards, providing a glimpse of the kind of weapon he can be in 2012.
“Colten had an outstanding spring and was really able to show his talents in the new offensive system,” Winter said. “We expect Colten to be a major focal point of our offensive improvement this fall.”
Winter believes the new system is well-suited for the rest of his offensive personnel as well. Whether it be sophomore Von Thomas or redshirt freshman Justin Haun at the quarterback position, Bulldog fans should expect to see more of an aerial attack in 2012. Both Thomas, who saw action in nine games last season, and Haun impressed throughout spring and fall camp, according to Winter.
However, the increased emphasis on throwing the football does not mean White will shy away from establishing the running game. The return of bruising junior running back Aaron Gillory from an ACL injury gives Concordia a potential workhorse feature back. The former University of Houston walk on was a prized member of Winter’s 2010 recruiting haul.
Creating room for Gillory to run will be an offensive line led by four returning starters, including senior Adam Faulstich and junior Dylan Klassen. Guard Josh Powell, out in 2011 due to injury, improves the interior of the line.
The offensive front, with more simplified duties, picked up White’s scheme quickly in the spring.
“I was really pleased with the progress of the offense this spring,” White said. “We tried to be aggressive with our installation schedule and they had a lot of new stuff thrown at them in a short time period. They did a great job picking up a new system and new terminology. We were able to get the bulk of our playbook put in. We have some bright guys so they are quick learners.”
On the other side of the ball, Concordia has the makings of another stout unit under the guidance of third-year defensive coordinator Patrick Daberkow. The Bulldogs return stalwart junior outside linebacker Dylan Heithoff (GPAC Second Team All-Conference in 2011) and senior Michael Voelker (GPAC Honorable Mention All-Conference), who aided a defense that finished a respectable 27th nationally in rush defense (116.5) and 29th in total defense (309.4).
The return of Heithoff and Voelker eases the pain of losing leading tackler Jerrod Fleming from the linebacker corps and steady defensive back Ben Klein.
“Dylan is a guy we expect to be one of the top defensive players in the conference,” Winter said. “He has an ability to make impact plays and our defensive coaches will put him in a great position to be that type of player.
“Michael is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the entire conference. He has really put on good size this offseason and I am excited to see what he will do this fall.”
Voelker, who has been a mainstay on the Bulldog defensive front since arriving at Concordia, gave high praise to Heithoff. Voelker shares Winter’s enthusiasm for the kind of talent Heithoff has displayed. With Voelker eating up space in the interior of the 3-4 defense and Heithoff making plays on the edge, the Bulldogs are excited about their defense despite key losses like Fleming.
“We’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” Voelker said. “We lost some really good guys from last year. We have to replace them, but I think we can. The biggest improvement we can make is finishing games and making sure we shut them down. There were a few games were we showed we can really stop everyone and there were a few games where we lost our identity.”
Other impact returnees on defense include safety Drew Baxter (53 tackles in 2011), cornerback Darnell Woods and linebackers Tom Malander, Langston Jones and Kyle Little. Jones, Malander and Woods were each recognized as Honorable Mention All-Conference by the GPAC last season.
On special teams, senior kicker Kenny Zoeller looks to improve upon his 6-for-15 performance on field goal tries last season. Junior punter Joe Marshall (34.0 average on 70 punts in 2011) also returns, giving the Bulldogs an experienced kicking game.
The 2012 squad will get a boost from its freshman class, five to 10 of which Winter believes have an opportunity to see the field immediately.
If the spring and early part of fall camp is any indication, Concordia appears primed to enjoy its first .500 or better season since 2004.
“Personally, I think we can be on the higher end (of the GPAC),” Voelker said. “I know we have the talent. We just have to find a way to get it all together and get over the mountain that we’ve been climbing. It’s been a long climb, but we’re right there. I know we can be in the upper half of our conference.
“Once we get there, it will feel sweet.”
The Bulldogs open their season Saturday at home against No. 13 Benedictine (Kan.). Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.
Fall Season Preview Schedule