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14 DWU football players earn GPAC accolades

Fourteen Dakota Wesleyan University football players earned all-Great Plains Athletic Conference honors, it was announced Tuesday.

“I always consider our conference as one of the best in the country, so it just goes to show how good of football players some of our guys are,” Tiger head coach Ross Cimpl said Tuesday.

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The Tigers (8-3, 7-2 GPAC) finished third in the conference behind Morningside College and Northwestern College and finished No. 20 in the NAIA, leaving them just shy of making the 16-team national tournament.

Headlining the accolades for DWU are all-GPAC first-team offense selections junior running back Francois Barnaud and senior wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg and first-team defense selection sophomore linebacker Brady Bonte.

This is the first honor of Barnaud’s career as the Belle Fourche native had a breakout season, leading the NAIA in rushing and set a school record for rushing yards in a season with 1,893. Along with leading the nation in rushing yards, he was second in rushing yards per game (172.1), third in all-purpose yards (2,109) and fourth in all-purpose yards per game (191.7).

He recorded 285 carries, scoring 14 touchdowns and averaging 6.6 yards per carry in his junior season. He also caught 20 receptions for 215 yards.

Muilenburg, who returned for DWU this season after sitting out with an ankle injury last year, has earned seven GPAC honors in five seasons with the Tigers. This is the third first-team offensive honor and it follows a strong season in which he set a school-record 251 receiving yards in a game against Northwestern. He also holds DWU’s career receptions record with 225.

The Sioux Falls Lincoln graduate ended the year ninth in the nation in receiving yards (1,002), 10th in total catches (65) and 11th in receiving yards per game (11.1). He hauled in 11 touchdowns and ran for one score. Muilenburg was an honorable mention selection after finishing third in the GPAC with 9.6 yards per punt return. He returned 16 punts for 154 yards this season.

“Our offense caused a lot of problems for defenses this season,” Cimpl said. “Other coaches would tell me that and these guys were a big part of that.”

Bonte led the Tiger defense all season, finishing eighth in the GPAC with 8.1 tackles per game. He tallied 88 total tackles and finished eighth in the NAIA with 20 tackles for a loss of 100 yards and nine sacks. In addition, Bonte returned an interception for a touchdown, had three pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

“Our conference is linebacker heavy, so for him to be recognized as a sophomore shows his level of play and what he was able to do,” Cimpl said.

The Tigers had four players make the second team. Junior offensive linemen Jake Verry and Kyle Hencke made the second-team offense, while senior defensive lineman Eric Gruis and senior defensive back Matt McManus made the second-team defense.

Verry, a Wernersville, Penn., native, and Hencke, a Sturgis native, helped the Tiger offense rush for 2,213 yards and throw for 2,334 yards. This is the first honor for Verry and second for Hencke.

Gruis received his first defensive honor and finished eighth on the team with 46 tackles and second with 7.5 tackles for a loss. This is also McManus’ first GPAC accolade, and he finished with 68 tackles and led the team in interceptions with three. The Fulton native also had three pass breakups and one tackle for a loss.

Senior quarterback Jon Bane, senior offensive lineman Eric Witte, junior linebacker Anthony Cervantes, sophomore defensive back Tanner Munk, senior defensive lineman Matt Tuttle, senior offensive lineman Skyler Eriksen and junior linebacker Jeff Maassen were honorable mention selections.

Eleven of the 14 players who received GPAC honors are South Dakota natives.

“We’re getting some good kids to come here from around the state,” Cimpl said. “We’re getting kids that are looking at staying close to home, and we’re setting them up to be successful.”

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.