Spring practice begins: Wednesday, April 8
Spring practice open to public: Friday, May 1, 7 p.m., Bulldog Stadium
Head Coach: Vance Winter, 28-37 (enters seventh season in 2015)
Offensive Coordinator: Curran White (fourth season)
Defensive Coordinator: Patrick Daberkow (sixth season; ninth season on defensive staff)
Special Teams: Corby Osten (eighth season on football staff)
2014 Record: 5-6 overall, 4-5 GPAC (T-6th)
2015 returning starters
Special Teams: 4
Sept. 5 – at Southwestern College, 6 p.m.
Sept. 12 – vs. Hastings College, 6 p.m. (Seward Fan Appreciation)
Sept. 19 – at Northwestern College, 1 p.m.
Oct. 3 – at Dordt College, 1 p.m.
Oct. 10 – vs. Nebraska Wesleyan University, 1 p.m. (Homecoming)
Oct. 17 – at Midland University, 5 p.m.
Oct. 24 – vs. Doane College, 1 p.m.
Oct. 31 – vs. Morningside College, 1 p.m. (Parent’s Day)
Nov. 7 – at Dakota Wesleyan University, 1 p.m.
Nov. 14 – vs. Briar Cliff University, 1 p.m. (Senior Day)
Concordia will experience a changing of the guard at the most important position on the football field. Gone is three-year starter Von Thomas, one of the most electrifying offensive playmakers in the GPAC over the past few seasons. Thomas graduated with program single-season records for touchdown passes (21), total offense (2,508), completions (197), passing attempts (334) and completion percentage (59.0). He owns program career records for total offense (7,260), passing touchdowns (49), total touchdowns (65), completions (510) and pass attempts (960).
His departure leaves sophomore-to-be TJ Austin as the most experienced option. In his first collegiate action last season, Austin played in five games and totaled a combined 608 yards (440 passing) of offense. The Texas native is a contrast to Thomas with his well-built physique. He will see competition from senior Garrett Folchert and sophomore Riley Wiltfong.
A pair of physical runners from The Lone Star State return to give Concordia one of the top running back units in the conference. First team all-conference back Bryce Collins became the fifth 1,000-yard single-season rusher in program history last season and enters his junior season with 1,720 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground over the past two years. Backup Demarques Saulberry ran for 290 yards on 74 carries last season. At fullback, Josh Davis emerged at the end of 2014 and caught two touchdown passes in the season-ending win at Briar Cliff. The biggest key will be the development of depth behind Collins and Saulberry.
There may not be a more dynamic receiver tandem in the history of the program than what Concordia possesses in top pass catchers Jared Garcia and Logan Otte (Texas natives). Both excelled last season as freshmen. Garcia was especially difficult to handle in the red zone and broke a school single-season record with 11 touchdown catches. He and Otte combined for 1,069 yards and 16 touchdowns receiving. The No. 3 receiver is also a sophomore-to-be in Carey Harrison (14 catches, 188 yards). This group will make life easier on whoever wins the quarterback job.
As long as the Bulldogs avoid the injuries suffered last year, the tight end position will be well stocked. After starter Josh Slechta went down with an injury in fall camp, Seth Fitzke stepped in last season and earned second team all-conference honors. With Fitzke standing 6-foot-5 and Slechta at 6-foot-6, Concordia has two versatile tight ends who are adept at both catching passes and blocking. They round out a formidable group of skill players.
Vance Winter admits that this group comes with the most question marks entering spring practice. The anchor of last year’s unit – first team all-conference right guard Josh Powell – must be replaced. Concordia also says goodbye to left tackle Glenn Manninger, center Adam Aschenbrenner and right tackle Sawyer Birtell. That leaves left guard Ben Balduc as the lone returning starter. With the skill positions in good hands, the offensive line will be a major focus throughout the offseason.
Senior Michael Gill and junior Ronald Jackson bring a wealth of experience to the Concordia front as part of coordinator Patrick Daberkow’s 3-4 scheme. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs will be tasked with replacing their most productive defensive player in 2014 – Kyle Rakow, a second team all-league choice who racked up 15.5 tackles for loss in his senior season. Rakow moves on along with Alex Melius. Gill is next in line to be a star. The Ogallala native tied Rakow for a team high of 4.5 sacks in 2014. Trey Barnes, a converted running back, is an impressive talent and will figure into the mix.
Winter hopes this position will be fortified by the class of 2015 recruits. Among returning players, junior Michael Hedlund and senior Clay Mauro saw the most snaps a year ago. The opportunistic Hedlund also played safety and intercepted five passes in 2014. This unit is likely to look much different this fall.
The secondary is teeming with returning starters, including second team all-conference corner Tarence Roby (transfer from Northern Illinois University). On the opposite side of the field, sophomore D’Mauria Martin holds down another corner spot after a solid freshman campaign. Then there’s all-conference senior safety Tait Sibbel, junior Matt Keener and members of the incoming recruiting class. The most difficult task may simply be finding a spot for each of them.
This unit should again be a strength as the Bulldogs return their kicker, punter, long snapper and return men from last season. Kicker Adam Meirose moved up to first team all-conference honors in 2014 after going 6-for-8 on field goals and 40-for-42 on extra points (school record for PATs). On kick returns, Tarence Roby averaged 30.8 yards per pop and took a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown versus Northwestern. Running back Bryce Collins also doubles as a dangerous threat on kick return. In his first season as punter in 2014, Sandy Fisher downed 16 punts inside the 20.