Before the 2021 Dakota Wesleyan University football team takes the field for its season opener in roughly a month, some big decisions will need to be made during fall camp.

That process starts for coach Ross Cimpl on Aug. 4, when the newest edition of the Tigers takes the field. DWU hosts Dakota State for its first game of the season at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28 at Joe Quintal Field.

The Tigers were 4-5 in 2020 in a COVID-19 impacted campaign, winning their last three games. Then in the spring, the team played a scrimmage against Northwestern College on April 2 and held a traditional spring intrasquad scrimmage on April 17.

Heading into fall camp, DWU now is on the clock to make some decisions. Defensively, every starter is returning to the team except lineman Caden Milmine.

Offensively, the quarterback position is still up for grabs between Kiel Nelson, Austin Lee and Jimmy Garewal and won’t be determined until fall camp gets fully underway. All three got competitive snaps in 2020, with the Mitchell High School alum Nelson logging the most yards and pass attempts.

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“Between those three guys, we have to find the one that will get the job done,” Cimpl said. “They’re all talented, it’s just a matter of who’s going to be the best fit to manage our offense.”

In the process of finding its quarterback, DWU will also be looking to replace the production of NAIA All-American receiver Spencer Neugebauer. Daniel Libolt and Jakob Oxos didn’t finish last season due to injuries, but will be returning this season.

“Gavin Spurrell, Logan Feuerbach and Preston Nedved were three freshman receivers last year that did a nice job in the spring (season) and we’re going to count on them having bigger roles this fall,” Cimpl said. (Of note, Nedved is Cimpl's son.)

Cimpl also highlighted sophomore players safety Aaron Black, linebacker Jaiden Walton, and defensive end Ethan Engen for having a strong spring season and looks forward to seeing their success this fall.

DWU freshmen Andrew Kortemeyer, Parker Grotjohn and Trent Suckut started on the offensive line to end last season. While those players are coming back and have another year of experience, junior Bryan Smith and senior TJ Benton will also be returning to the offensive line.

Since June, the Tigers have been working with the school's strength program and playing 7-on-7, where players have called their own plays and Cimpl believes this allows the team to build a rapport offensively and defensively.

“We need to get stronger, faster, in better shape and just study the playbook and film,” Cimpl said. “Guys that know what they're doing and know what they’re seeing, we want their input and if they have suggestions we’ll definitely take that into consideration and depending on how much they know things, will determine how much freedom they’ll have going forward.”

DWU ended the 2020 season on a three-game winning streak and Cimpl credits the defense and the run game for nearly getting the team back to .500.

“Defensively those guys played really well,” Cimpl said. “They were able to get off the field and give our offensive opportunities to have the football. Offensively, the one area that really helped us out was establishing more of a run game than we had at the beginning of the season.”

In the last three regular season games, Emery native Jamin Arend averaged 4.8 yards per carry for a total of 319 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, the Tigers held each opponent to under 100 yards on the ground, averaged four sacks per game, forced opponents to go 14 of 38 on third down and won each game by an average of 16 points.