Grasping the playbook: DWU football has 14 spring practices, misses game
Dakota Wesleyan University's spring football game was canceled due to weather, but coach Ross Cimpl still felt spring ball was a success.
The main focus was gaining a better understanding of the playbook as the Tigers battled weather throughout. DWU split its 14 practices between four different locations—Joe Quintal Field, DWU practice fields, DWU/Avera Sports and Wellness Complex and in Tea. DWU scrimmaged and held a coaches clinic at Tea High School.
Cimpl praised his team's ability to adapt to different practice settings, as well as withstanding the physical and mental toll of spring ball.
"We did get some live sessions in and saw guys tackle in the open field, saw our skill guys make plays," Cimpl said. "Spring is always really hard physically and mentally because you don't have a game but you need to get ready to play a game."
DWU will enter fall camp without naming a starting quarterback, though, and there's no timetable to decide.
Cimpl wants to see the three incoming freshmen, which includes Mitchell native Kiel Nelson, compete with Kansas Wesleyan University transfer Anthony De La Torre and Zachary Lester.
"If someone wants to take the reins and eliminate the competition, then there's nothing wrong with that," Cimpl said. "But right now, we still need to see people competing and winning the job, not handing the job to someone."
De La Torre took the first-team reps since Lester didn't rejoin the team until midway through spring practice. But Lester appeared in four games last season, completing 7 of 13 passes for 54 yards, while rushing for 24 on five carries.
"Lester's kind of the calm in the storm," DWU offensive coordinator Loren Endsley said. "When chaos is going on around him, he finds a way to make something happen. ... Some of the throws he makes, he shouldn't be able to get off but he gets off."
Whoever wins the job will throw to an experienced receiver group, including the emergence of redshirt junior Preston Emerson who impressed Cimpl this spring.
DWU returns its top-two receivers in Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer and Daniel Libolt, who recorded 829 and 673 yards, respectively. Libolt also led the team with seven touchdowns as a true freshman.
Although, Neugebauer will see fewer looks out of the wildcat formation after a lack of success and inability to keep teams honest. The former Kernel running back rushed for 47 yards and four scores on 26 carries, but only attempted one pass.
"It's going to be a lot less if we do it," Endsley said. "We're going to find different ways to get him the ball."
For a defense returning eight starters, Cimpl feels it's taking steps in the right direction after allowing 31.6 points per game last season.
DWU's most experienced group is its defensive line, which returns all three starters. It also has three freshmen in its recruiting class, including Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan's Carter Dye.
"Our goal going into the spring was our defense getting a better understanding of our defense," Cimpl said. "For the most part, our older guys really saw where their piece of the puzzle fits, which allows guys to take different chances and make plays because they know what they can and can't do in the scheme."