SEWARD, Neb. – A strong crowd got a first look at the 2014 edition of the Concordia University football team on Friday night as the program held its annual open spring practice under the lights at Bulldog Stadium. On a perfect night for football, the Bulldogs showed off their characteristic physical flair in front of a throng of visiting high school prospects, including several who have already inked with Concordia.
Reflecting on the spring as a whole, sixth-year head coach Vance Winter especially liked what he saw from his offensive and defensive lines.
“It was a good spring,” Winter said. “We’re really excited with what we have up front – offensive and defensive lines. They’ve really battled each other all spring. Having Von (Thomas) back at quarterback gives us a comfort level back there. I’ve just been really pleased with the effort and intensity the entire offseason.”
Fans were treated at the beginning of the evening to a display of linemen attempting to field punts. While most of the Bulldog big guys looked uncomfortable in that role, sophomore-to-be Ron Jackson and senior-to-be Kyle Rakow pleased the crowd by successfully hauling the ball in. Rakow even made a diving catch of a line drive punt.
The action soon took on a more serious tone as Concordia shifted to a scrimmage, beginning with the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense. At least in the early going, the offensive front, anchored by right guard Josh Powell, had its way in pushing running back Bryce Collins over the goal line in a smash-mouth opening drive. The No. 1 offense then moved the football in position for a 27-yard Adam Meirose field goal on the proceeding possession.
“I thought the defense and offense traded days throughout the spring in terms of who was dominant,” Winter said. “I think the offense really set a great tempo tonight. They did a great job moving the ball early and then the defense responded and did some good things. Overall it was a good night.”
Thomas, heading into his third season as the starting quarterback, showed a mastery of a pistol spread offense now in its third year under coordinator Curran White. Thomas, a classic dual threat signal caller, and the running game should be a strength Concordia leans upon throughout the upcoming fall.
“I was really pleased with how we ran the ball,” Winter said. “I thought Bryce ran the ball great. I thought Demarques Saulberry, after some early hiccups, ran the ball great. Those guys really did a nice a job, and James Ferguson at the end ran the ball great. We were really asking a lot of those guys because we only had three backs tonight.”
The stout Bulldog o-line got pushed on Friday and all spring by what figures to be a stellar unit up front defensively. The four who saw the most action with the No. 1s at the scrimmage were Michael Gill, Johnson, Alex Melius and Rakow.
Some notable absences on Friday were running back Trey Barnes (appendicitis), cornerback Landon Oelke (offseason shoulder surgery) and tight end Josh Slechta (participating in track and field). Both Barnes and Slechta were honorable mention all-conference choices in 2013.
With Oelke’s absence, Adam Vogt got plenty of reps at a No. 1 corner spot throughout spring. Vogt, a second team all-conference performer on the hardwood for head coach Ben Limback, has used up his eligibility in basketball but can play a year of football.
An added element of excitement was created by the presence of a large group of prospective recruits. Two even signed with the Bulldogs on Friday.
“Look at it. It was a huge crowd,” Winter said. “Pretty exciting. The recruits being here today shows their level of excitement too. We’ve got a great class coming in and we’re really excited about them. They’re going to add to this group and be guys that are really going to help us out a ton this fall.”
The Bulldogs kick off the 2014 season on Saturday, Sept. 6 at Sterling College in Sterling, Kan. Game time is set for 6 p.m. Last season Concordia went 7-4, marking the most wins for the program since 2001. The Bulldogs peaked at No. 14 in the national rankings.