Spring practice begins: Monday, March 31
Spring practice open to public: Friday, April 25, 7 p.m., Bulldog Stadium
Head coach Vance Winter, 23-31 overall (enters sixth season in 2014)
Offensive Coordinator: Curran White (third season)
Defensive Coordinator: Patrick Daberkow (fifth season as DC; eighth season on defensive staff)
Special Teams: Corby Osten (seventh season on football staff)
2013 Record: 7-4 overall; 5-4 GPAC (T-5th)
2014 Returning starters:
Special Teams: 1
Sept. 6 – at Sterling College, 6 p.m.
Sept. 13 – *at Hastings College, 1 p.m.
Sept. 20 – *Midland University, 6 p.m. (Fan Appreciation)
Sept. 27 – Dakota State University, 6 p.m.
Oct. 4 – *Dordt College, 1 p.m. (Homecoming)
Oct. 11 – *at Nebraska Wesleyan University, 1 p.m.
Oct. 18 – *Northwestern College, 1 p.m. (Parent’s Day)
Oct. 25 – *at Doane College, 1 p.m.
Nov. 1 – *at Morningside College, 1 p.m.
Nov. 8 – *Dakota Wesleyan University, 1 p.m. (Senior Day)
Nov. 15 – *at Briar Cliff University, 1 p.m.
Von Thomas is the unquestioned leader of the offense as he enters his senior year – his third as the team’s starting quarterback. The 6-foot-2 Miami native set single-season school records last year with 2,508 yards of total offense, 197 pass completions, 334 pass attempts and a 59.0 completion percentage. The dual-threat Thomas should be even better as a senior. He will be backed up by junior-to-be Garrett Folchert and freshman T.J. Austin, who redshirted in 2013.
This position is in great hands with the return of Trey Barnes and Bryce Collins, who combined for 1,168 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground last season. Head coach Vance Winter says both are stronger and even better equipped now to handle the pounding of the GPAC slate. The talented two-headed monster should give Concordia its best running game since Winter took over in 2009. The Bulldogs are also set at fullback with sophomore-to-be Jerad Leifeld (two receiving TDs in 2013) back in the fold.
Transition again defines the receiver position with the departures of starters Jeff Balz and Derek Klaus, who combined for 50 catches and 437 receiving yards last year. Those losses will bring about fierce competition in spring and fall camps. Junior-to-be Riley Herren (Lone Tree, Colo.) is one pass catcher to keep an eye on in addition to fellow returnee Deshawn Eure and a talented group of recruits.
Concordia will have arguably the top tight end in the GPAC in Josh Slechta, a consistent blocker who hauled in 23 passes for 322 yards last year. Slechta is the obvious starter but there will be competition for playing time behind him. As a track and field athlete, Slechta will not practice with the football team this spring.
Concordia loses a senior stalwart in center Dylan Klassen, but the rest of the unit that paved the way for 182.3 rushing yards per game returns. The headliner is right guard Josh Powell, a 2013 second team all-conference choice who has regularly drawn praise from Winter. The group also has starters back in left tackle Glennon Manninger, left guard Ben Balduc and right tackle Sawyer Birtell. Adam Aschenbrenner, who started two games in 2013, figures to slide into the vacated center position as part of one of the most experienced offensive fronts in the league.
There are significant losses in the form of first team all-conference selection Dylan Heithoff and Cody Hawk, but those departures will be mitigated by a deep group that played a lot of snaps in 2013. Junior-to-be Michael Gill is a rising star. He made 49 tackles (7.5 for loss) and three sacks as a disruptive force in the middle in 2013. Starter Kyle Rakow also returns as part of the team’s 3-4 front. Others like Ronald Jackson and Alex Melius will also be expected to produce.
Concordia simply reloads at a position that has produced some of the program’s best players in recent seasons. The Bulldogs bring back solid backers in Drew Baxter (42 tackles), who started at safety as a sophomore, and Nakemm Evans (35 tackles), both of whom will be seniors. The other two spots will be up for grabs with Langston Jones and Colton Schneider moving on.
With All-American Darnell Woods out of the picture, Tait Sibbel figures to be the star of the unit. Sibbel made 54 stops last season and led the team with four interceptions. Landon Oelke is another returning starter and Matt Keener (two interceptions in 2013) should be part of the answer in filling the voids left by Derek Blessing, John Lee and Woods. There will also be opportunities for newcomers.
Concordia is set at kicker thanks to the return of second team all-conference choice Adam Meirose, who converted on 9 of 13 field goal attempts as a sophomore. The punting and return positions are wide open as Joe Marshall and Blessing graduate.