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Energy, effort leads Tigers in spring start

Dakota Wesleyan's Tre Hobbs (11) goes up for a catch as cornerback Brandon Slama (20) defends on the play during practice on Monday afternoon on the practice field on campus. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Dakota Wesleyan University football team had a little extra pop to their practice on Monday.

Not only was it the first day of spring, but the Tigers also competed in full pads for the first time during their third practice of the spring season.

Given those reasons, DWU coach Ross Cimpl could feel the effort and energy was up.

"Guys were competing," Cimpl said. "It looked like a fall practice from the standpoint of guys had a sense of urgency and how they went about their jobs."

Spring ball brings out competition as players are jockeying for jobs in the fall. There are more than 70 players participating this spring.

Offensively, quarterback Dillon Turner has the No. 1 spot locked down and all five starting offensive linemen return from last season. That leaves offensive skill-position jobs there for the taking. Turner was the leading rusher last season, while Jonny Withrow rushed for 438 yards and four touchdowns. Withrow sat out Monday's practice with a minor knee injury.

Withrow's absence opens up the door for Gaige Marshall, Luke Loudenburg, Zach Gors and Chayden Fitzsimmons to get more reps at tailback.

"Fortunately for us, we have some depth at that spot and those guys are all competing," Cimpl said.

Marshall and Loudenburg split a bulk of the reps on Monday, with Gors and Fitzsimmons also getting opportunities.

"We are all knocking at the door, to maybe starting and all of us getting playing time," Marshall said. "We have a very talented backfield."

Marshall said the skill players around Turner will need to step up in order to complement the talented signal caller.

"He is one piece of the puzzle and we've got 10 other guys out there," Marshall said. "We've got dudes all over stepping up in the offensive line position, wide receivers and backs and Dillon helps hold it all together, for sure."

The Tiger offense also has some different pieces to work with at wide receiver. DWU graduated two all-conference wideouts in Dustin Livingston and Kodi Larson. Hayden Adams is the top returning wide receiver and said the spring is important in terms of getting on the same page with each other.

"Spring ball, it really helps set up the transition to summer and then fall camp as well," Adams said. "But spring ball it is just really working on our offensive chemistry, whether it is with the linemen, the quarterback, running backs and even the receivers."

The position group welcomed a pair of newcomers in junior-college transfer Tre Hobbs and former DWU basketball player Brandon Boggs. The two both bring something different to the table.

Hobbs is a 5-foot-10, 180-pound speedster, while Boggs looks the part with his 6-foot-4 frame and brings some size to the spot.

"Right now, they are taking everything in," Adams said. "Each day, you can see them progressing and they are really trying to understand the offense right now. They both are really talented ballplayers."

Defensively, Cimpl said the front seven played well on Monday.

"We had a third-down period and defensively, we won that period," said Cimpl, who then praised the unit for performing well against an offense that averaged 517 yards per game and returns numerous pieces for 2017. "For our defense to be able to get pressure on those guys, get some sacks and knock some balls down, that was really good to see in a third-down situation."

Cimpl felt Tyler Wagner, Kaleb Haas and Austin Van Poole also did well at the inside linebacker spots.

"Overall, I thought defensively those guys are playing well," Cimpl said. "Defense is always a little bit ahead with timing and different things."