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Tiger football team working in spring to build off big season

DWU linebacker Anthony Cervantes (24) prepares to make a tackle in a game against Nebraska Wesleyan University last season at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. Also pictured is Matt McManus (27). (Aaron Saunders/Republic)

After finishing 8-3 last season, expectations are high for the Dakota Wesleyan University football team.

DWU head coach Ross Cimpl said his staff and team are doing all they can to get better this spring.

“I think expectations are very high,” Cimpl said Thursday. “Sometimes it is easy to get wrapped up in the fact that we had a good season. But there was a lot of hard work that went into us having that big season, and I think our guys recognize that. They know that we have a lot of work to do if we want get better this season.”

Because of snow, Thursday’s practice was canceled. The Tigers have had four practices so far and are scheduled to have 10 more before the spring game on April 16.

Cimpl returns many of the players who started for Wesleyan last year, including running back Francois Barnaud and linebacker Brady Bonte, both of whom earned first-team all-Great Plains Athletic Conference honors last season. Barnaud is coming off a season which saw him set the school record for single-season rushing yards at 1,631, while Bonte had season-highs 76 tackles and six sacks. Second-team all-GPAC selections Jake Verry and Kyle Hencke also return to the Tiger lineup.

But noticeably absent is longtime DWU starting quarterback Jon Bane and All-American wide receiver Anthony Muilenburg. Both players had been stalwarts in the Wesleyan football program, but have completed their eligibility.

“Like I said before when Josh Endres graduated, you don’t replace those type of guys,” Cimpl said. “We don’t have a guy who will do the same things that Anthony could do, but as a group, we are improving as a whole. Hopefully, someone will step up as a lead receiver.”

As for replacing Bane, that job has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Junior College transfer Logan Massop in spring practice. Massop is the only quarterback in spring ball for the Tigers.

When fall camp starts, he will be joined by fellow JUCO transfer Andrew Paulson and incoming freshman Dillon Turner.

“In four days time, he has learned a lot, and it is going to give him a huge advantage going into the fall,” Cimpl said. “He has done really well. He had a big hill to climb with learning the offense, but he has come in and gotten better.”

Massop, JUCO transfer Ryan Anderson and freshman wide receiver C.J. Newey are three players from the 2014 recruiting class, who are already on campus. Cimpl said over two-thirds of his team consists of freshmen and sophomores. Cimpl said it’s important for those new players to get quality reps this spring.

Cimpl’s most veteran laden positions are the offensive line, which returns four starters and the linebacking core — Bonte, Anthony Cervantes, Jeff Maassen and Stickney native Adam Bormann.

“Practice has been pretty good,” Maassen said. “We are a little bit rusty but not too bad. I wish the weather was better so we could get more time on the field, but I think we are further ahead than where we were last year at this time.”