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DWU focused on making right adjustments during fall camp

Fall camp has begun for DWU, which is looking to improve on last season's 2-9 record.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Garrett Determan catches a pass during Thursday's practice at the DWU practice field. (Jeremy Karll / Republic)

Dakota Wesleyan University football doesn’t hide from last season.

The Tigers talk about their first losing season since 2009 and Ross Cimpl’s only in seven years at the helm. It’s less about their 2-9 record and more on the holes and lack of consistency it exploited, which DWU is focusing on since fall camp began Wednesday.

“We reference it. Not always in a negative way,” Cimpl said. “I think that’s the thing in terms of referencing last year, we were capable but we were inconsistent and that caused us to be in a dog fight every single game. We didn’t win a lot of those.”

DWU’s inconsistencies led to five single-digit losses and a 1-8 record in Great Plains Athletic Conference play. In a preseason poll closely mirroring last season’s standings, it was selected to finish ninth by both the media and coaches this year, too.

With its first full-pad practice of fall camp scheduled for today, the Tigers are focused less on the outcome of plays and more on the process of getting desired results.

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It starts with the “effort things and communication,” per Cimpl, who said DWU took it for granted last season. Starting behind the line in a rep during practice or finishing through plays could be the difference between DWU’s first back-to-back losing seasons since 2006-07 and showcasing a more complete game.

“Ultimately that comes back to me not doing a good job teaching our coaches what those things are,” Cimpl said. “Teaching our players what those things are and holding people accountable to whatever it is.”

It also starts with finding a reliable quarterback. With the graduation of the record-breaking Dillon Turner after the 2017 season, DWU threw for 77.8 fewer yards per game last year, despite passing as frequently.

And with freshmen now able to practice with the team, the Tigers are in the midst of their second straight fall camp quarterback battle. Zachary Lester played sparingly last season, Anthony De La Torre spent the past two seasons at Kansas Wesleyan University but never saw the field, while true freshmen Jordan Etter and Mitchell native Kiel Nelson have been on campus since July 8 but haven’t participated in their first practice until Wednesday.

De La Torre took first-team reps during spring ball as Zachary Lester rejoined the team, but there’s no timetable on deciding a quarterback for the Aug. 29 season opener at Dakota State University. As of now, the reps are split between the four on a practice-to-practice basis.

“Not sure what you can really see in a few amount of plays,” Cimpl said. “We don’t have any run plays, we don’t have any checks. But we can see how guys are throwing the ball and what decisions they’re making.”
Etter, who Cimpl described as “super athletic,” is also taking reps as a third-string wide receiver.

Blocking for whoever wins the job will be a bigger offensive line, albeit one which needs to replace four starters. Cimpl mentioned the 6-foot-5, 305-pound sophomore TJ Benton as a potential addition to the line.

Even with new faces at key positions coming off a losing season, DWU isn’t looking for an overhaul. It’s focused on making the right tweaks.

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“For us, it’s not reinventing the wheel,” Cimpl said. “But it’s smoothing it out a little bit in terms of focusing on what we need to be focusing on instead of external things.”

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