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DWU football team hits new practice field

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Dakota Wesleyan University wide receiver Spencer Neugebauer (34) catches a pass in front of defensive back Charlie LaRoche in the team's first practice of the season on Sunday. (Ryan Deal/Republic)2 / 2

Dakota Wesleyan University had plenty of space for its 108 football players on Sunday.

The Tigers officially started the 2017 campaign with their first practice of the season on the school's new practice fields, just south of the DWU/Avera Sports and Wellness Complex. The empty lot has three practice fields and the Tigers utilized two of them for the first time on Sunday.

"You've got guys spread out everywhere and you don't have guys piled on top of each other," DWU coach Ross Cimpl said about the extra room. "The school has done a tremendous job with the fields and the condition. The space is great, but keeping our guys healthy and having really, really good conditions to practice in is a lot of fun."

It's a far cry from the space across the street in front of the Corrigan Health Sciences Center, which is where the team practiced at in previous years.

"We actually have got grass on our field," DWU senior quarterback Dillon Turner said when comparing the practice fields. "Not rocks and dirt. So that makes the energy a lot higher."

And there's plenty of energy surrounding the Tigers right now. Turner is the reigning Great Plains Athletic Conference offensive player of the year and DWU was recently picked No. 2 in the GPAC preseason coaches poll.

But despite the high ranking, DWU is focusing on what it can control.

"We don't even look at those," DWU senior defensive back Charlie LaRoche said. "This team hasn't proved anything yet. We haven't won any games yet. So we are just out here practicing trying to get better."

Cimpl looks at the ranking a couple of different ways. It proves the Tigers are no longer an underdog and hopes that his team embraces the high expectations.

"We want to have expectations," Cimpl said. "We want people be looking at us, but there is also a responsibility that comes with that. There's got to be things you put in place that you have to be able to back those things up and our guys have worked for that."

Now the Tigers will have 18 days of fall camp before their season opener against Dakota State University on Thursday, Aug. 24 in Madison.

Offensively, Turner said fall camp will be key for getting on the same page with his skill players. It's also the first time Turner will have his entire starting offensive line returning.

"It makes it a lot easier for me to be back there and stand in there," Turner said. "Those guys worked hard everyday and they are going to continue to build trust in me. It is going to be a good year with those guys."

Defensively, the Tigers lost six starters, including five all-conference players. LaRoche said it will be tough to replace the seniors, but roles will be defined during fall camp.

"We have lot of recruits in," he said. "We are going to have a lot more depth this year at corner and linebacker. So we are going to try to fill those holes."

NOTES: Cimpl said 93 players passed the conditioning test. . . . Cimpl said after watching film is when he'll be able to evaluate individual freshmen, but on Sunday he noticed Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer making a nice catch during 1-on-1 drills and said cornerback Xander Hall also made a nice play that stood out. . . . The only position change from the spring to the fall is Scott Senftner making the move from quarterback to tight end. Senftner projects to add depth behind Tyler Fortuna and Ben Gustad at the position.