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Tiger football falls short of expectations

Dakota Wesleyan's Luke Loudenburg (23) breaks free from the Briar Cliff defense for a score during a game earlier this year at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Dakota Wesleyan University football team didn't hear its name called during the NAIA Playoff Selection Show on Sunday.

But unlike previous years, the Tigers didn't have much of a chance to make the 16-team field on the final day of the season, officially ending the 2017 campaign for the Tigers.

It was a season that saw record-setting numbers put up by senior quarterback Dillon Turner and senior wide receiver Hayden Adams. But it also saw a struggling defense that gave up 425 points. It all added up to a 6-5 season for the Tigers, who had high playoff aspirations after coming close in 2015 and 2016.

"For us, to say that it's a disappointment is probably accurate," DWU coach Ross Cimpl said.

Turner and Adams were two of 20 seniors that helped the Tigers go 30-14 in the last four seasons. But also gone are offensive lineman Levi Rozeboom, safety Charlie LaRoche and wide receiver Lewis Hofer, among others.

"Those guys are a tremendously successful class that we are going to miss in every aspect of our program," Cimpl said.

So, who replaces Turner? That will be the question from now and until fall camp arrives. DWU sophomore Shaye Slaughter has been Turner's backup for the past two seasons. The 6-foot-5 Slaughter looks the part and Cimpl said, "Shaye is a super-athletic guy. He can throw the ball a mile."

Cimpl doesn't anticipate the Tigers changing their offensive scheme with a new quarterback at the helm. The DWU coaching staff designed opportunities for Turner and relied on him to go through his reads.

"We may not design as many things," Cimpl said. "But in terms of our overall scheme, I think we need to recruit guys and Shaye is one of those guys where we feel like they can run our offense. So I don't see our scheme changing a whole lot in terms of what we are doing offensively."

The Tiger offense will return speedy running back and Howard graduate Luke Loudenburg, who rushed for 993 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore. Mitchell native and DWU freshman Spencer Neugebauer will be the top returning receiver, after hauling in 29 catches for 381 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, DWU finished 85th out of 88 teams in total defense. The Tigers surrendered 505 yards per game and also ranked last in the NAIA in passing defense.

"I don't think anybody is happy or pleased with where we ended up defensively and how we really executed," Cimpl said.

The Tigers will return their top four tacklers, led by linebackers Tyler Wagner (72 tackles) and Dillon Rork (68 tackles/3 sacks). Mitchell native and freshman linebacker Cody Reichelt (26 tackles) showed flashes during his first season of being a reliable player for the Tigers.

DWU will return several other players on the defensive unit and another year of development will be key, said Cimpl.

"The defensive side of the ball, we had a lot of learning that had to happen," Cimpl said. "We learned a lot about our guys and what they are capable of doing."

This week, the DWU coaching staff will start gearing up for the recruiting season. Cimpl said the main emphasis this recruiting cycle will be the offensive and defensive lines, while also targeting the quarterback position.

"We just always need to invest in our offensive and defensive lines," Cimpl said. "That's a position we always need to look at."

The Tiger staff is debating whether to bring in one or two quarterbacks, with the idea of redshirting and developing one of them.

"It's going to kind of depend on how many other positions we feel like we really have to go get," Cimpl said.