Spartan Football Prepares for First Match-up
Aug 28, 2017
DUBUQUE, Iowa – The University of Dubuque football begins their 2017 season this week on the road against the Bethel University Royals on Saturday, Sept. 2 in St. Paul, Minn.
The Royals have been picked to finish fourth in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). St. Thomas led the coaches poll with seven first place votes and 63 points, St. John’s garnered two first place votes and 58 points to earn the second place selection. Concordia was third with 50 points, Bethel fourth with 43 points, Gustavus Adolphus fifth with 34 points, Hamline sixth with 27 points, Augsburg seventh with 21 points, St. Olaf eighth with 18 points and Carleton ninth with 10 points.
Last year’s contest was an offensive record breaking shoot out with the Spartans capturing the win 70-53 over the Royals. Bethel enters the 2017 season with a few changes. A new defensive coordinator will run a new 4-3 scheme up front and will provide a fresh look for the Spartans offense. Bethel returns some outstanding players from last year’s squad and will look to a quarterback which started games eight, nine, and ten for the Royals.
The Spartans (8-2 overall, and 6-2 in IIAC in 2016) will play on a grass field when they travel to Minnesota. UD has played just one game in the last 27 contests on a real grass field. The Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) will play all league games for the first time on all turf fields in 2017. The IIAC picked the Spartans to win the 2017 season with four first place votes and 60 points. Coe and Wartburg tied for second with each receiving two first place votes and 52 points. Central was fourth with one first place vote and 50 points. Simpson was fifth with 33 points, Nebraska Wesleyan was sixth with 27 points, Luther was seventh with 21 points, Loras eighth with 17 points and Buena Vista ninth with 12 points.
UD brought in 87 freshmen to start camp and enter play with around 150 student-athletes ready to take the field for the Spartans. UD brought back 14 seniors, six juniors and two sophomores to the starting line-up with many underclassmen scattered among the two-deep.
In pre-season camp, there have been good battles among the tailbacks, offensive line, wide receivers corps, linebackers, corner backs, and in the secondary, which includes a talent laden group of corners and defensive backs. UD returns 59 letter winners (31 offense, 25 defensive, and three special teams).
Three standouts include Conor Feckley (QB, 6-0, 200, Sr., Anchorage, Alaska), Le’Devin Smith (LB, 6-0, 225, Sr., Downers Grove, Ill.), and Michael Joseph (DB, 6-1, 180, Sr., Oswego, Ill.). Feckley re-wrote the record books in the 2016 season opener after completing 31-47 passes for 634 yards and eight touchdowns. Smith returns after ending 2016 with 96 tackles, three for losses of nine yards, two interceptions with returns of 63 yards, two fumble recoveries for 40 yards, four pass break-ups, six pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.
Joseph has garnered attention from every NFL team after running one of the quickest 40 times recorded by a Spartan in the secondary. Not a practice in pre-season has been without 1-3 NFL scouts in attendance. Joseph led the Spartans with four interceptions and return yardage of 86 yards. He finished 2016 with 68 tackles, four for losses of 15 yards, eight pass break-ups, and 12 deflections, and a blocked kick.
The Spartans will be looking to replace the top three wide receivers: Najee Toomer (Sr.) 67 catches, 1,183 yards, and 13 touchdowns; Austin Morgan (So.) 42 catches, 384 yards, four touchdowns; and Jonathan Duarte (Sr.) 34 catches, 528 yards, six touchdowns. Plenty of underclassmen have been vying for the two deep, expect see sophomores and freshmen in the two deep at wide receiver. It’s just the opposite for the defensive unit. The defense will be packed with seniors dominating the two deep
Special teams will be faces you have seen in the line-up last season. Brayden Neuendorf (Sr.) will be kicking, Jacob Rentz (So.) will handle the punting, Cameron Sorenson (Sr.) will be long snapper, Kody Riemer (So.) punt return along with Dylan Schultz (Sr.), and Riemer in kick return along with Dwayne Allen Jr. (So.).
UD and Bethel have both been mentioned in various Top-25 polls with outcome of this week’s opener could have a bearing on the playoffs with it being in-region and MIAC vs. IIAC. UD has been among the leaders in the IIAC in the past five years and should be again this season. Coach Stan Zweifel has the best winning percentage in IIAC play of any coach at UD in just his ninth season.
“I think we are better physically this season which shows the work our student-athletes have done in the off-season, as one always knows, a single injury can change a season,” commented Zweifel. “Bethel is an outstanding team, we have to be prepared for when we play in Saint Paul. We’re looking forward to starting our season.”