MOORHEAD, Minn. (8/30/10)-- As Concordia head coach Terry Horan enters his 10th season at the helm of the Cobbers, he will be setting his sights on new opportunities and kept promises. Horan heads into 2010 with a brand new playing surface on the tradition-filled Jake Christiansen Stadium. The first phase of a multi-million dollar facility project saw the installation of Field Turf – a promise that Horan had made to his players years before. The new artificial turf surface should help Concordia in the latter stages of the season and will also give the Cobbers a constant field surface to work out the timing with their complicated option offense.
The make-up of the 2010 team will also present new opportunities for players that have never been in the spotlight of an MIAC season. Concordia returns only seven of their 26 starting players and that includes 10 of 11 from the defensive side of the ball. Despite the lack of experience returning for the season, Horan remains optimistic, “I really like the chemistry and attitude this team has shown in the offseason and during the first weeks of preseason,” commented Horan. “I think this year will be very exciting.”
Only time will tell if the Cobbers can gain the experience it will need to ward off a brutal start to the conference season and garner their eighth top 4 finish in the MIAC in the past nine seasons. Concordia will need several players to step up and go from key substitutes to clutch starters if they have a chance at continuing their winning tradition.
The good news for Concordia is that they return a pair of All-Conference players that have the ability to be game breakers. Senior defensive back Zach Debeltz (Anoka, Minn.) was one of three All-MIAC First Team honorees in 2009. He led the team in tackles in conference play. On the offensive side, junior quarterback Michael Dunham (Willmar, Minn.) gives Concordia a steadying influence to start the season as he won three of the final four games of last season after being inserted as the team’s starting signal-caller late in the year.
“Both Zach and Michael are the type of players that lead through their actions on the field,” said Horan. They will give the team great leadership as captains in 2010.”
Once again the conference schedule maker gave Concordia the toughest opening stretch of games for any team in the league. After playing a pair of non-conference games against Dac-10 opponents to start the season, the Cobbers will open MIAC play on the road at 2009 NCAA Quarterfinalist St. Thomas and the very next week travel to defending conference champion St. John’s. If CC can survive the opening round 1-2 punch then they will have a chance to go all 10 rounds and fight for a chance to finish in the top three of the league.
For the second straight season, the Cobbers will have to replace a major chunk of their total offensive output. Concordia lost 80% of their total running yardage from last year and 15 of 19 rushing TD’s from a year ago due to graduation. Of the returning ball carriers, only Dunham had more than 100 total rushing yards on the season and more than 20 rushing attempts. Dunham was inserted as the team's starting quarterback in the fifth conference game of the year and went 3-1 to finish out the year. He was fourth in the MIAC in passing yards per game (166.9 yds/game), fourth in total yards per game (185.4) and sixth in passing efficiency (126.5). He will have to shoulder the majority of the offense in the early stages of 2010 as the Cobbers try and find backfield help.
The running back corps will be led by Bo Jedinak (Sr., Nisswa, Minn./Brainerd HS) and Chris Gilson (Jr., Detroit Lakes, Minn.). Neither player rushed for more than 50 yards in 2009 but both have the capability to churn out consistent yardage with an expanded number of carries. Sean Brandenburg (Sr., Fargo, N.D./Fargo South) will start the year as the team’s No.1 fullback and occupy a key spot in the triple option running game.
The deepest position on the team in 2010 will be at wide receiver. Although the Cobbers lost their top pass catcher from a year ago, they return three talented wideouts that all have the chance to manufacture a breakout season. Bronson Shepherd (Jr., Brainerd, Minn.) is the top returned of the trio as he finished 2009 with 27 catches and a 10.1 yards per catch average. Zach Weller (Sr., Sauk Centre, Minn.) and Mike Starke (So., Annandale, Minn.) have the size to hold off any defender in the league and will be used as possession-type receivers.
The offensive line will be another question mark for the Cobbers. The center/guard trio of Giles Henry (Sr., St. Cloud, Minn./St. Cloud Tech HS), Jared Buysse (Sr., Marshall, Minn.) and Justin Hanson (Sr., Spicer, Minn./New-London Spicer HS) were all starters last season and will help protect the middle of the line. Finding a pair of tackles to compliment the three seniors will be the key for Dunham and the Concordia offense.
Fans at Concordia games will need a program to recognize the CC defense in 2010. Debeltz is the only full-time starter that returns from a defense that was fifth in the league in total defense and finished the year by not allowing more than 21 points in the last four games of the year. Defensive Coordinator Scott Lucier will earn his keep this year as he tries to find the right mix of athletes that can play together and continue to carry the torch of the Cobbers’ stifling defense.
Besides Debeltz, the Cobbers will count on Nick Baumann (Sr., Mahtomedi, Minn.) up front, Guy Rudolph (Sr., Trimont, Minn./Norman County West HS) in the middle and Perry Patterson (Sr., Blaine, Minn.) in the defensive backfield. Rudolph was fourth on the team in tackles in 2009 as he played all 10 games at linebacker and had 41 tackles. Baumann will be a force on the line as his 6’4, 285 lb frame should tie up the offensive line so the Cobber linebacking crew can step up and make plays. Patterson could be in line to be one of the stars of this year’s defense as his hard-hitting style and physical play will give Concordia a momentum swinging defensive player.
The Cobber special teams unit also took a hit from graduation. Concordia lost their starting kicker and punter from last season. CC will feature a new place kicker for the first time since 2006 and they will trot a brand new punter for the first time in three years. The kicking duties will fall on the shoulders of junior college transfer Porfirio Diaz (Jr., Pelican Rapids, Minn.). Diaz has a strong leg for field goals and has already connected on a 50-yard field goal in the first weeks of preseason. The punting duties will be the major issue for CC. Alex Jenson (Sr., Breckenridge, Minn.) is the only returning player who has trained as a punter and will be given the opportunity to win the starting job at the beginning of the year.