SEWARD, Neb. – It’s a new era for the Concordia University football program. That was made clear when Bulldog quarterbacks actually went under center out of a power I-formation during portions of Friday night’s hour long practice inside Bulldog Stadium. A few hundred people gathered to take in what amounted to the first public appearance for the football program since Patrick Daberkow was named head coach in December.
It was an upbeat atmosphere on a crisp spring evening in Seward. Daberkow’s still getting used to what it’s like to run the show.
“It’s a lot different. I had a penalty flag. I was the ref for the night and I don’t really care for that,” Daberkow joked. “The defensive guys were telling me I don’t get hyped anymore and I don’t even know how to respond to that. I know D coordinator. I’ve been doing that. For me in the head coach role it’s kind of learning by doing it.”
The defense has a different look with plenty of new faces, but that side of the ball got the better of play on Friday night. All three starters up front are gone from last year’s stout unit. The list of departures includes All-American Trey Barnes. The secondary is home to more familiar names such as returners D’Mauria Martin and Tarence Roby.
In the linebacker unit, sophomore-to-be Terrell Pearson stood out on Friday night. Daberkow is looking for players like Pearson to emerge to fill the holes left by eight graduating starters.
“The defense played really well tonight,” Daberkow said. “We have some stuff to work on offensively, but we kind of knew we were going to have some growing pains with some limited reps for other guys. It was good to see the defense flying around. We have some guys who have stepped up during spring ball and really made some good impressions. I think it’s a good springboard into next fall.”
The lone returning starter in the linebacker core is Kordell Glause, but Daberkow does not seemed overly concerned about the group. The first-year head coach also mentioned Parker Hasenkamp, a Hiawatha, Kan., native, as another linebacker that enjoyed a productive spring. Said Daberkow, “Seeing the defensive line and linebackers play the way they did tonight was really encouraging.”
The Bulldogs would also love to see another threat emerge on the opposite side of star receiver Jared Garcia, who spent most of his time on Friday catching punts along with Bruiser the Bulldog (yes, the Bulldog mascot was actually on the field ‘trying’ to catch punts). Vincent Beasley drew some of the biggest crowd reactions with his acrobatic grabs. He is a potential breakout candidate.
It’s undecided who will be slinging the ball to the likes of Beasley and Garcia. Junior Riley Wiltfong was the first quarterback to take the field on Friday. He and three other signal callers saw action throughout the scrimmage. Wiltfong led the team last season with 1,136 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air, but Daberkow says the position battle will carry on into the fall.
“We’ve seen a lot of flashes of good things from our quarterback group this spring,” Daberkow said. “Tonight probably wasn’t the best look, but I feel al right about it. We have work to do, but I think we can get there.”
The offense is still adapting to new coordinator Thomas Byrd. With him at the controls, Concordia attempted to push the pace. Jordan Slough got carries at the No. 1 running back position and fullback Erik Small continues to impress with his physicality. He’s widely regarded as one of the team’s best players.
The offense figures to make strides throughout the summer and fall as it gets more comfortable in its own skin.
“We don’t have a quarterback who’s ever gone under center before,” Daberkow said. “That’s something you don’t really think about going into it. That’s part of the growing and part of the learning process. It’s sometimes simple fundamental techniques that you take for granted.”
The first practice this fall will be held on Aug. 11. The Bulldogs will invite the public to another open scrimmage on Aug. 19. The 2017 season officially kicks off at Kansas Wesleyan University on Sept. 2. That game is tentatively scheduled to get underway at 6 p.m. CT in Salina, Kan.