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Making their move: As spring camp winds down, Tigers tweak defensive personnel

The Dakota Wesleyan University football team is all about seizing its opportunities. On a drizzly and chilly afternoon, the Tigers had their 10th practice of the spring season on Monday. DWU has five practices remaining, culminating with the spri...

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Dakota Wesleyan's Gaige Marshall is hit by safety Tyrel Haley after making a catch during a practice earlier this spring season. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Dakota Wesleyan University football team is all about seizing its opportunities.

On a drizzly and chilly afternoon, the Tigers had their 10th practice of the spring season on Monday. DWU has five practices remaining, culminating with the spring game on April 13.

With time ticking on the spring, each practice is more and more critical for the Tigers.

"Our opportunities are more limited," DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. "Which is a big thing, but for us, guys have been doing our schemes for 10 practices and it has gotten us to this point and it is fine-tune time. It is fine-tuning for everybody."

A pair of former running backs are taking advantage of their opportunities after making the switch to defense. Mitch Johnson and Eathen Gaulke, who were both redshirt tailbacks last year, are getting reps on defense.

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Johnson, a Mitchell graduate, is playing cornerback. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Johnson did not play cornerback in high school, but rather played linebacker. He credits Cimpl, who works the defensive backs, for helping him with the transition.

"It is all new stuff, going from downhill to going backward a lot of the times," Johnson said. "It has just been a difficult transition, but we are getting the hang of it."

Gaulke, a Kimball grad, is playing outside linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Gaulke played outside linebacker his final two years of high school and before that he lined up at defensive end. He praised DWU linebackers Dillon Rork and Trevor Lundin for helping him with the new position.

"A lot of the guys have been there for me to help me out," Gaulke said. "I love the energy that the defense brings. Nothing has really changed as far as a work ethic. I have to put in a lot of work and I have to watch a lot of film and just kind of take it step by step."

And both are seeing this spring as a chance to take advantage of their opportunities. The defense lost six starters, including a pair of starting cornerbacks.

"It is a huge opportunity," Johnson said. "We have got four corners right now. We have got some coming in, but all that matters is what you do with the reps you've got right now. It is a huge opportunity to get on the field and get a good look in."

The linebacking corps is also in flux and Gaulke hopes to take advantage.

"It is a great opportunity," Gaulke said. "I am just here to take it day-by-day and get better everyday and work on the technique stuff and just go hard."

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On the road

DWU was coming off a scrimmage and coaching clinic on Saturday in Harrisburg.

Cimpl said the purpose of the scrimmage was to break up the monotony of the spring season. He characterized the scrimmage as a positive.

"Spring ball is hard," Cimpl said. "It is really hard mentally. Obviously, there is physical things that are hard, but mentally, it is really hard. For us to be able to get away a little bit and change up the pace of things was really good. Obviously, a lot of guys made plays and a lot of guys made mistakes. Those were coachable things we are trying to do moving forward."

Cimpl said between 12 and 15 high school coaches attended the coaching clinic, which was also a positive.

"It was a lot of fun just talking football and showing people how we do it and asking them questions," Cimpl said. "We don't know it all, but it was nice to get their ideas and opinions and hopefully, there is something that they saw or they observed that was beneficial for them, too."

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