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DWU football players check in today

The Dakota Wesleyan football team reports to fall camp today and second-year head coach Brad Pole is optimistic about the numbers and what his defense could bring to the table in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.

The Dakota Wesleyan football team reports to fall camp today and second-year head coach Brad Pole is optimistic about the numbers and what his defense could bring to the table in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.

The Tigers are expecting 82 players to report to camp. Players and coaches will begin check-in this morning and conduct their first practice at 7:30 a.m. Monday.

Wesleyan will go through two-a-day practices all week before conducting a scrimmage on Aug. 19. DWU will host another scrimmage on Aug. 26. Both scrimmages are open to the public.

The Tigers, who were picked to finish in a tie for ninth place in the GPAC, open by hosting Hastings at 1 p.m. on Sept. 2 at Joe Quintal Field.

With the larger number of players and coaches around going into this year's camp, Pole said things will be a bit different around the team this year.

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"We're up about a dozen players from last year. We wanted to have about 90-95, but it's going to take us one more year to get there," Pole said. "I'm really happy with the guys we have coming in. We have a good attitude and talent, but we are extremely young."

New coaches under Pole this year include Paul Lasley at offensive coordinator, Bob Sprang at linebackers and defensive line, Chad Vogel at offensive line and Blake Waddell, who was just recently hired also as an assistant track and field coach. Back as graduate assistants are Osaro Kyles and Zeke Prado.

"We're happy that college was committed to the program and got us some more staff members. That was a big need for us last year," Pole admitted. "We can practice more efficiently with more players and coaches here that can help us."

Although he won't be new to Dakota Wesleyan, a lot of the players and coaches will be. The Tigers return 27 letterwinners, but are bringing in a slew of new recruits that Pole is excited about. Most of the newcomers are from South Dakota.

"We have a large group of kids who already understand the system," said Pole. "Any time you do something twice, you're going to get that much better at it. One of the things we do have is a lot of new faces. There's still a lot of newness that you have to work through. We kind of did that with the guys who were here this spring at practice."

Pole wants to improve his team's spread offense and 3-4 defense that struggled throughout last season. However, the Tigers did appear to make strides with both systems by the end of the year.

Still, DWU was outscored 327-178 by its opponents.

"The No. 1 thing for us in the first three weeks of practice is getting good and quality practices," Pole said. "We have a lot of young guys and getting them to grasp everything in that period is going to be important. We just want to make sure when we hit that first game that we're efficient. We want to be a band of brothers and we want to unite this group of guys. We want to focus and do things with perfection. You have to start with being committed."

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Looking at the starters returning on defense, DWU could be very strong on that side of that ball. Senior defensive linemen Lionel Riley and Brett Maag are back. Maag had 57 tackles last year and Riley was a second team all-GPAC selection.

"Riley and Maag are two guys who leave their calling cards on Saturdays. They're players," Pole said.

Back at linebacker is Kimball native and sophomore Derek Ashley, who was an honorable mention all-GPAC pick and Antonio Rice, a sophomore who had 43 tackles last year as a freshman. The secondary returns senior safety/cornerback Eric Washington (38 tackles), senior free safety Grant Rawlings (56 tackles), junior cornerback Paul Wilson (16 tackles) and senior cornerback Rod Hawkins (two interceptions, 16 tackles).

"I think our stickiness on defense is going to surprise some people," Pole said. "I know we can be a heck of a lot better on defense than we were last year. We played well in the second half of the season. I'm counting on the defense to come together at camp. Most of experience is back there. There is some pressure on those guys to pull it together and jell."

Pole pointed to Washington, Hawkins, Maag, Riley, Ashley and Rawlings as being the leaders of the defense.

On offense, incoming freshman Jon Doom, Black Hills State transfer Drew Loutzenhiser and redshirt freshman Brad Folkers will compete for the starting quarterback spot.

"I think our ability to perform at the quarterback position is going to surprise people, too," Pole said. "With the young guys we have coming in, it's exciting."

In the backfield, senior running back Rodney Moore returns after rushing for 669 yards last season. Also returning is senior Andrew Schmaltz at fullback. Schmaltz is a two-time all GPAC selection who rushed for 265 yards and six touchdowns last year and caught 22 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns.

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"Andrew and Rodney are a couple of guys with a lot of skills," Pole said. "We're not going to do anything different offensively. We just want to do the same stuff better. Rodney will be featured as much as he wants to be. He has to produce and grab that spot by the reigns. We also have a great young running back from Rapid City coming in Keith Jones. All the guys have to step up and be leaders, but Rodney is very capable. This is an important camp for him. He can be a dominant player in my mind."

On the offensive line, senior Caleb Lanz is back after starting all 10 games last year. Pole said he also expects big contributions from junior John McDaniel and junior Tim Strinz.

At receiver, sophomore Jon Young, senior Anthony Paxton and sophomore John Olson are expected to be the front-runners for starting positions. Paxton caught seven passes for 51 yards last season.

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