SEWARD, Neb. – For the first time since the middle of last November, the Concordia University football team will take the field for regular-season action when the ball is kicked off at 6 p.m. on Saturday from Smisor Stadium, home of 15th-ranked Sterling College. The host Warriors are a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“We’re really excited to play against a top-15 team like Sterling,” sixth-year head coach Vance Winter said at Tuesday’s Bulldog Booster Club gathering. “They are a legit team with really good players.”
2013 Team Statistics
Offensive PPG: 26.4 (43rd)
Defensive PPG: 17.3 (6th)
Total Offense: 360.0 (45th)
Pass Offense: 177.7 (53rd)
Rush Offense: 182.3 (31st)
Total Defense: 285.5 (4th)
Pass Defense: 135.5 (1st)
Rush Defense: 150.7 (31st)
Turnover +/-: +5 (T-26th)
Offensive PPG: 35.2 (14th)
Defensive PPG: 24.0 (28th)
Total Offense: 350.7 (52nd)
Pass Offense: 132.4 (71st)
Rush Offense: 218.3 (14th)
Total Defense: 419.8 (61st)
Pass Defense: 219.8 (57th)
Rush Defense: 200.0 (52nd)
Turnover +/-: +27 (1st)
Returning Individual Leaders
Head Coach: Vance Winter (23-31, 6th year)
Passing: Von Thomas – 197/334, 13 TD, 8 INT, 1,947 yards
Rushing: Bryce Collins – 181 att, 704 yards, 3.9 avg, 11 TD
Receiving: Josh Slechta – 23 rec, 322 yards, 14.0 avg, 1 TD
Defense: S Tait Sibbel – 54 tackles, 4 INT
Head Coach: Andy Lambert (Overall: 88-88, 18th year, Sterling: 58-45, 11th year)
Passing: Reggie Langford – 108/203, 19 TD, 6 INT, 1,521 yards
Rushing: Reggie Langford – 273 att, 1,144 yards, 4.2 avg, 9 TD
Receiving: Dentton Hudspeth – 43 rec, 558 yards, 13.0 avg, 6 TD
Defense: S Tyus Williams – 83 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2 INT
After a 7-4 season that included six-straight weeks of being included in the NAIA’s top 25, Concordia was picked by both coaches and media to finish fourth in the GPAC. That preseason placement is the highest since the 2002 season when the Bulldogs were coming off a co-conference title in 2001. Concordia did not receive any votes in the national preseason poll.
Senior quarterback Von Thomas returns for his third season as a starter. The signal caller from Miami, Fla., broke single-season school records in 2013 for total offense (2,508 yards), completion percentage and completions, as he connected on 59.0 percent (197-for-334) of his passes. In his career, Thomas has put up 5,080 total yards of offense, including 3,976 yards through the air. He has been part of 37 total touchdowns (28 passing, nine rushing).
The first Concordia depth chart of the 2014 season has some notable omissions due to injuries that occurred during fall camp. Expected starters in tight end Josh Slechta, linebacker Michael Carroll and safety Drew Baxter are absent from the two deep and will miss Saturday’s game and perhaps additional contests.
Defensively, Adam Vogt, a four-year member of the basketball team, is listed as a starter at cornerback. Senior Kyle Rakow shifts from defensive line to linebacker to make up for the loss of Carroll. At tight end, Seth Fitzke moves into a starting role in place of Slechta. Fitzke has drawn rave reviews this preseason from the coaching staff.
Young Receiver Core
Three of the four players listed at either flanker or split end on the depth chart are true freshmen. Native Texans Jared Garcia and Logan Otte have earned starting positions while Carey Harrison is listed below Otte on the depth chart. Otte led Texas prep powerhouse Katy High School in receiving as a senior. Meanwhile, Garcia has enjoyed an impressive fall camp. Winter believes the young receiver group will give the Bulldogs a more explosive passing game in 2014.
Sterling’s powerful run game
A key to Sterling piling up more than 35 points per game last season was a prolific running game led by dual threat quarterback Reggie Langford and NAIA First Team All-American running back Antonio Bray. Both return this season after combining for 2,025 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground in 2013. Langford led the team with 1,144 rushing yards while also throwing for 1,521 yards to go with a 19-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In addition, Bray is a terror in the return game. Last season he returned three kicks for touchdowns and averaged 35.7 yards per kick return.
Warriors’ ball-hawking D
Despite being outgained by 69.1 yards per game by its opponents, Sterling went 9-3 overall and won the KCAC. The Warriors overcame the yardage disadvantage with an NAIA-leading plus-27 turnover margin. Sterling’s ball-hawking defense came up with 41 takeaways, including 22 interceptions by 11 different players. The turnovers helped negate its opponents’ average of 419.8 yards per game (61st nationally). The Warriors’ top returning defender is safety Tyus Williams, who came up with 83 tackles last season.
The quarterback matchup of Von Thomas versus Reggie Langford provides plenty of intrigue. Both are comfortable whether delivering the football from the pocket or making plays with their legs. While Concordia’s offense has impressed during fall camp, coordinator Patrick Daberkow’s retooled defensive unit will have its hands full with the immense skill talent of the Warriors. Both teams figure to learn plenty about themselves in an early-season showdown.