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Kinder schedule awaits DWU football

Dakota Wesleyan University football players huddle before a play during a Great Plains Athletic Conference football game earlier this season at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Nick McCutcheon/Republic)

Last season's schedule was almost a recipe for failure for the Dakota Wesleyan University football team, according to head coach Ross Cimpl.

The Tigers played five of their first six games on the road, including a week three matchup with Great Plains Athletic Conference power Northwestern College.

This year the story of the schedule is flipped. The Tigers play seven of their 11 games at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell, including five of their first six.

"We learned last year that we can be an elite team, but we have to win those big games," Cimpl said. "We are in that conversation now, but we won't be at the same level as Northwestern and Morningside until we beat those teams. We are on the verge of being in that top tier."

After starting 1-2 last season, DWU rallied to win seven of eight games the rest of the way, with a one-sided loss to then-No. 1-ranked Morningside College, which was the only blemish down the stretch.

"Our guys realized at the end of the year that losing two of our first three games essentially cost us," Cimpl said.

The third-year coach has said a number of times that there are no moral victories, but he acknowledged the important accomplishments and lessons his team learned in the 2013 season.

"There was a different way we went about things last year than in previous seasons," Cimpl said. "In previous seasons, we would get off to good starts and struggle at the end. Last year we lost two games early, but finished very strong."

DWU won eight games for just the third time in the program's history -- which dates back to 1897 -- and for the first time since 1992. The team finished 20th in the final regular season NAIA rankings, just missing out an opportunity to go to the national tournament.

Cimpl said it came down to the first game of the season last year against the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Replacing Bane

Coming into the 2014 season, Cimpl knew he would be faced with the tough task of replacing four-year starting quarterback Jon Bane, who holds numerous DWU passing records.

When Bane's backup in 2013, Nick Kinder, left school to pursue other opportunities, Cimpl's job became even more daunting.

"You don't replace a four-year starter," Cimpl said. "Quarterback is going to be a question mark for us. I do think we have some talented kids coming in at the position."

Cimpl is excited to see some competition at the quarterback spot, as Bane did not have anyone push him the last four years at DWU.

When spring camp opened in April, the Tigers had a single quarterback on the team in Logan Massop, a junior college transfer who enrolled at DWU for the spring semester. Massop shortly thereafter decided DWU was not for him and left the team.

DWU has four quarterbacks signed to join the team for camp this summer, including Andrew Paulson, a junior college transfer from St. Helens, Ore., who will be a junior in the fall.

Cimpl said he had to get a little creative with practice in the spring without someone for the center to snap the ball to.

"It was obviously not ideal," Cimpl said. "We were able to stay healthy and we still got after it. Our guys had the right mindset."

The Tigers also need to replace the production of All-American wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg, but do return running back Francois Barnaud, who was near the top of the NAIA in rushing in 2013 as a junior.

The Tigers open summer camp Aug. 12. Cimpl said it is an open competition for the starting quarterback spot when the Tigers kick off the 2014 season against Wisconsin-Stout Sept. 6 at Joe Quintal Field.

"The thing we learned last year is that Wisconsin-Stout is a playoff game and we learned that the hard way," Cimpl said.