Featured Story

Luke Lang 2.0: a Bulldog transformed

By Jacob Knabel on Apr. 20, 2023 in Football

There were times when Luke Lang stayed up too late playing video games, missed morning weights, ate unhealthily and fell behind academically – and on the depth chart at quarterback. He was frustrated and ready for something different. Lang says he never harbored hard feelings for Concordia, or the football program, during his times of struggle. Even so, he became convinced that life would be better somewhere else, perhaps closer to home.

To be sure, the native of Brentwood, Calif., was confused. He was confused about where he was meant to be. Over Christmas break, at the close of the fall 2020 semester, Lang decided to leave Concordia.

Says Lang, “I kind of struggled that year and I let being towards the bottom of the depth chart get to me. Going into the offseason, I was frustrated because I didn’t play at all that year. I decided to transfer. I felt like I could do better than the people that were playing currently. If I couldn’t play here, I felt like I could somewhere else. There was a lot going on in my head. I just missed home. A lot of it was just mental and growing up stuff. I transferred out.”

Fast forward to June of 2021 when Lang drafted a tweet that said simply, “I’m going back,” with a larger explanation for his decision included. Lang had spent months searching for the right answers and for the path that would lead him to success and fulfillment. Through prayer, those answers became apparent. Lang realized he missed his Concordia teammates and coaches. With the right motivation and a new attitude, Lang became a breakthrough performer in the fall of 2022 when he caught 39 passes for 593 yards and five touchdowns. He’ll enter 2023 as one of the top tight ends in the entire NAIA. Yes, he’s a tight end now.

There’s so much more to Lang’s story than those few months he spent taking online classes from a California community college during the spring semester of 2021. The talents Lang possesses seem so obvious now, but they were sometimes hidden by youth, a need for more development and a touch of immaturity. Honestly, not so different than many other young adults. Lang attended Heritage High School (enrollment of roughly 2,000) in California and went up against future NFL players like Najee Harris and Joe Mixon. There was only minor recruiting buzz for Lang, who waited until his senior year to become a starter.

Lang was discovered in California by former Concordia assistant coach Thomas Byrd, who saw the 6-foot-3 quarterback at an all-star game. For Concordia, Lang had the look of a diamond in the rough. It was January of Lang’s senior year of high school and he had yet to decide what would come next. It wasn’t until April, after Lang had finished track season, that he finalized his college decision by signing a scholarship offer.

Recalls Lang, “I think I had one phone call with Coach Dab (Patrick Daberkow). I was still thinking about where I wanted to go and he said he wanted to get me on a visit. I was doing research on all the different places. Towards the end of my senior year, I kind of wanted to spread my wings and get out of California. They really liked my film and wanted me to come on a visit. I really liked it. It’s a nice change of pace out here. I signed on my visit.”

Lang says he never expected immediate playing time. He also would have been shocked by the circuitous journey that was about to unfold. In the fall of 2018, Lang found his way onto the Concordia roster as a true freshman when he roomed with Logan Kreizel. Lang would start out learning from the likes of Blake Culbert, Jake Kemp and Andrew Perea within his position group. The first three college football seasons for Lang went like this:

·        Freshman year (2018) – played only sparingly while getting his feet wet.

·        Sophomore year (2019) – redshirted after a broken collarbone suffered in an intramural soccer game (seriously).

·        Redshirt sophomore year (2020) – again, saw almost no game action.

Lang felt cheated a bit in that he had no spring ball in 2020 (due to COVID-19) to prove himself following the injury. Lang had spent three years in the program (one completely sidelined by injury) and had seemingly gained no traction whatsoever when it came to varsity playing time. Naturally, Lang experienced the type of thoughts so many others would in that situation: maybe it’s time for me to leave. In all aspects of Lang’s life, he possessed untapped potential.

“My football struggles coincided with my academic struggles,” Lang said. “I had no clue what I wanted to do for the first two-and-a-half years I was here. I was looking at kinesiology, biology, rec and sport studies and communications. I took a journalism class with Tobin Beck, my advisor. As my football struggles improved, my academic struggles improved. Getting the academic side figured out helped with football too.”

But before Lang could figure out his academic issues, he unenrolled at Concordia, believing he was leaving that chapter of his life behind. During Christmas break, Lang engaged in a conversation with Daberkow. It was respectful, but there was clearly some frustration on both sides. Said Daberkow frankly, “I can tell you exactly where I was at when he said he was leaving the program. I wasn’t happy because I didn’t think he had a good plan. I just praise God that he came back.”

Looking back, Lang would have to admit that Daberkow was right. On June 21, 2021, Lang tweeted about his decision to return. It involved long conversations with his parents and former Concordia coaches and teammates. He wrote, “I understand that this whole situation may sound confusing. And you’re absolutely right, it has been. For such a long time I tried to do things on my own, find out who I was on my own, without giving thought to who God designed me to be, and where He intended me to be.”

Lang had been humbled and he’d experienced what he hoped would be the very worst of his college experience. There were more twists and turns to come. Once he resumed practice as a quarterback, Lang realized he was still buried on the depth chart. He wasn’t about to transfer again, but he wanted to explore other avenues for finding the playing field.

“I approached them about making the change,” Lang said of his switch to tight end. “I was only getting a few reps in fall camp. I wasn’t doing anything, so I was like, all right. I knew athletically I could help the team. If I needed to play linebacker, I would play linebacker. I was confident in my athletic ability. I went and bought a pair of gloves and started playing tight end. It worked out pretty well. I wasn’t the guy because we had Garrett Schardt on the team and we had Wyatt Cast too. I was like third or fourth. I started playing better at practice and they added a two tight end package, and I was playing on special teams.”

A big moment for Lang came on Oct. 2, 2021, when he caught a 13-yard touchdown pass fired from the right arm of quarterback DJ McGarvie. Lang quickly sprung to his feet and sprinted down the sideline, celebrating with teammates in his path. The moment felt more significant than just the six points it added to the score for Concordia. Said Daberkow, “I remember how excited he was after that first touchdown catch against Dakota Wesleyan. At that point in his career, I’m not sure if he thought he was ever going to play. There was something deeper to that. It had been years in the making.”

As it would turn out, that was the only pass Lang would catch during the 2021 season. Lang wasn’t out of the woods yet – and more lessons were coming. He let his diet slip and he stayed up too late playing video games. At times, Lang was either late or a no-show for weightlifting sessions.  The coaching staff and the leadership council eventually gave him an ultimatum: one more strike and he was out. Lang failed the test and the result was a suspension for the final three games of 2021.

Lang’s status at Concordia was again in jeopardy. Lang reached another crossroads and another moment that required him to look himself in the mirror. As repercussions, Lang wasn’t allowed to work out with the team or to practice. Despair came on those three Saturday game days when he was simply a spectator.

Something finally clicked for Lang, who changed his diet, added muscle mass and recommitted himself to reach the vast potential still hidden within him. Ultimately, Lang had to convince his coaches and teammates that he was worthy of another chance. He knew the spring of 2022 would be an important time for him to show how he had grown. This was the start of Luke 2.0.

“I had a meeting with the leadership council and they allowed me to come back, lift with the team and go through spring ball,” Lang said. “I wasn’t sure where I was going to be playing. Coach Dab said he wanted me to play X or Y or any receiver position I was needed at. It was unclear if Garrett (Schardt) was coming back at that time. I had a really good spring ball. I think the suspension turned things around for me because I’ve been pretty on top of things since then. Going into the fall, I knew I was in the mix.”

It was Lang’s fifth fall as a Bulldog when people found out what he was really capable of – from an all-around standpoint. An injury prevented Schardt from a possible fifth season of his own, so Lang had an opportunity to seize. This time, he would not disappoint. The middle of the season is when Lang really took off. He caught four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown versus Mount Marty, reeled in six receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown versus Dordt and then made five grabs for 77 yards and three touchdowns at Midland. Lang carved out a significant role even while McGarvie threw frequently to game-breaking receivers Korrell Koehlmoos and Austin Jablonski.

Said Daberkow, “For him to come out and have the year that he had last year is a testament to perseverance and hard work that he put in. To be honest, he didn’t always put in the work early in his career. I think he would tell you that. The way he operates now is something we’re really proud of. Not everyone does that. It’s a testament to what happens when you stick with something. Luke is a good example of that and I’m proud of him. He stuck with it when a lot of others would have quit and pointed the finger at someone else. He never did that. He changed his situation because he flipped his mindset.”

Added Daberkow, “We’re very thankful to have Luke 2.0.”

‘Luke 2.0’ found the right major that fit him: journalism. He’s working towards graduating in May 2024 following one more season of football. Lang’s many talents are now on display like never before. He even lends his booming baritone voice as a public address announcer for Concordia Athletic events, and he has pushed himself out of his comfort zone in theatrical productions. He’s acted in two plays and has directed one, something Lang “didn’t expect to be involved in at all.”

A brief break from Concordia made Lang realize the “grass isn’t always greener – sometimes the grass is fake,” as he put it. If there’s a posterchild for what Concordia Football can do for someone, Lang is that person. There still may be peaks and valleys to come, but Lang has proven he can persevere when adversity hits. He’ll be better off because of this complicated, sometimes confusing journey.

As Luke 2.0 says, “I don’t like to be set in one thing. I thought I was coming here to play quarterback and now I’m a tight end. God has a plan for everybody. I don’t question that.”