Tigers look to rebuild offensive line, run game
Dakota Wesleyan University football only cracked 20 points three times last season, with many of its problems stemming from an inability to control the line.
The Tigers allowed the third-most sacks per game (2.3) in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, had their fewest rushing touchdowns (17) since 2013 and Canova native Luke Loudenburg regressed from 2017.
DWU plans to change its approach to the run game. It'll go away from running the wildcat with Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer and Loudenburg likely won't receive 230 carries again.
"We want Luke to get a lot of carries, but there's also a line where it can go too far," DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. "Get him worn down, banged up and we don't want that."
The Tigers return Chayden Fitzsimmons and Jaden Bloemendaal, who both impressed in spring camp, while adding freshmen Jamin Arend, of Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan, and Joshua Posten.
Finding the right balance between a deep running back group is just the start, though. The Tigers almost started from scratch on the offensive line this spring after graduating four linemen, including All-American left tackle Trevor Wietzema. All-GPAC honorable mention Dawson Grotjohn is the only returning lineman to consistently start last season.
However, led by the emergence of converted tight end Ben Gustad, offensive coordinator Loren Endsley said, "(Offensive line) was probably our biggest area of growth this spring. The guys we needed to step up stepped up."
Converted nose tackle Mathew Davis stepped up at left guard. TJ Benton is in line to fill the big shoes left at left tackle, while Dawson Kerzman also returns after starting a couple of games at right tackle.
But Gustad has taken a leadership role in the position group, according to Endsley.
"(Gustad) put on a ton of good weight," Endsley said. "Now he understands the position and he works so hard. It's great to see a guy like that get rewarded for all the hard work he put in."
Although, it was still a small group in spring camp as the Tigers wait for their seven-linemen recruiting class to arrive. Cimpl expects them to compete for playing time, but was still pleased with what he saw this spring.
"Those guys took almost every single rep," Cimpl said. "I know there were times they were banged up, sick or weren't feeling well, but they battled. Obviously we have to put guys in new positions and starting roles, but that's a tough group. Their mentality was right."
Going up against the inexperienced line was a front seven which returns six starters after leading the GPAC with 33 sacks last season.
While it could have caused some initial frustration, Endsley felt it benefits his team in the long run. It better prepares the offensive line for a regular season game, as it learns how to play against different looks.
"Our defense runs a lot of different looks and brings a lot of different pressures and stunts," he said. "It's a really tough defense to prepare for, so we have to prepare for the toughest looks imaginable."