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Concordia University (Neb.)

In four season as the Head Coach at Concordia, Vance Winter has seen his team improve. They may not be where they want to be quite yet, but improvements year-by-year are critical. In his first season he led the Bulldogs to three wins. That was followed by a pair of four win seasons and last year a five win campaign. This year the Bulldogs should expect to at least hit the five win mark for a second straight year.

The team will be anchored by a defense that returns eight starters from a unit that ranked 5th in the conference in total defense last season. With the return of First Team All-GPAC defensive back Derek Blessing the defensive has a game changing-type player on the field. Not only did Blessing lead the defense in tackles last season and force three fumbles, he also paced the NAIA with 388 punt return yards and three punt return touchdowns. He averaged a hair under 20 yards per return last season. Dylan Heithoff hopes to again cause problems in the opposing backfield after 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season, while interception-leader and First Team All-GPAC selection Darnell Woods will help anchor the secondary. It’s a defense with experience, especially in the secondary, and probably the most put together unit in Winter’s time at CU. 

Coach Winter said of his defense, “I’m really excited with how this group meshed in the spring and the development of our young guys. We expect big things out of this group this fall.”

The offense returns seven starters, but isn’t as close to being an elite group as the defense. They need a couple of players to step up and be “game-changers”. It appears the offense lacks the explosiveness they would like to see. Quarterback Von Thomas is a great centerpiece as he enters his junior season. He has the capabilities to be a dangerous player, but must find consistency in the passing game. Last season the Bulldog pass attack was one of the worst in the conference and Thomas threw 17 interceptions, with just 14 touchdowns. Expect improvements this year in the second season with OC Curran White. The Bulldogs were a running back by committee team last season. Aaron Gillory (37.1 ypg) and Victor Brown (32.3 ypg) shared most of the duties a year ago, but the Bulldogs need someone to emerge from a group of capable ball carriers and be the leader to help open up the passing game. They will have the opportunity to do that with big fellas Dylan Klassen and Josh Powell leading the way up front. 

Coach Winter said of his offense, “We desperately need some explosive capabilities as an offense outside of our quarterback and need to become more consistent in our passing game.”

Thoughts: Concordia has suffered losing seasons for some time now and this coaching staff is ready to find a winning season. They are missing some pieces, but if players develop in fall camp quickly they have a chance to accomplish that goal.