When you return a 2,400-yard passer and a 1,300-yard rusher from a seven-win season, chances are the preseason conversation will trend towards the potential of the offense.
But when asked about his team, Concordia Lutheran coach Tim Mannigel expressed excitement about the defensive side of the ball.
“Up to now, I would say we are a little bit more excited about the defense, but that could change,” Mannigel said. “When we play all these good teams in the SAC as a 3A, giving up 21 or 28 points isn’t bad. And we have some real playmakers on that side of the ball.”
It starts in the trenches with Logan Nahrwold-Settle at the nose, a 6-foot-1, 260-pound space eater that can be disruptive at the point of attack.
The linebacker corps includes Matt Goeglein (96 tackles, eight TFL) and Sam Hudson (81 tackles, 13.5 TFL, six sacks), two stalwarts at the middle level of the defense.
In the secondary, senior Kam Johnson emerged in the second half of last season as one of the top safeties in the SAC. His closing speed and sure-tackling prowess are both elite.
“Kam is our quickest player, but for awhile he played timid, which you can’t do in the SAC,” Mannigel said. “The second half of last year really clicked and he turned it on.”
Cornerback Kam Vanderbosch had 57 tackles and three INTs a year ago. He will be relied upon as another senior defender who can match up with the best the league has to offer.
Quarterback Brandon Davis threw for 2,400 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, but Mannigel is expecting less of a certain thing this year. The senior tossed 20 INTs last year, way too many for Mannigel’s liking.
“Every route combination we run against every defense we will see there will be a receiver open,” Mannigel said. “Brandon has to be able to find that receiver and hit them. So far in practice, he has been really good.”
Tyler Grossman returns after hauling in 38 receptions for 663 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The graduation of Jalen Vanderbosch, Jeren Kindig and Jaden Parnin will put the spotlight on a new group of wideouts to complement Grossman. Potential breakout candidates include Bishop Luers transfer Scottie Vanlandingham, Luke Speckhard, Jace Parnin and Robert Johnson.
Not to be forgotten is Amir Drew, the senior who notched 1,371 rushing yards a season ago to go with 18 touchdowns. He is a workhorse in every sense of the word and will surely have his fair share of big games in 2020.
Last year’s sectional championship season may have been a mere primer for 2020 for the Cadets. While Concordia is not likely to compete for the Victory Bell in the SAC, it has the offensive firepower and the defensive talent to make some noise in the 3A playoffs.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
While loaded at certain positions, it remains to be seen whether the defensive front seven can compete with the likes of Homestead, Bishop Dwenger and Snider. If they cannot, that’s fine come postseason. Even so, this team has a lot to like. Even a No. 10 ranking may be a tad too low when we look back at the end of the season.
Week 4 vs. Bishop Luers
While the Battle of the Bishops is the true rivalry game for Bishop Luers, OTH has circled the Luers-Concordia game on the schedule for awhile now. The two lone SAC schools in 3A or below always duke it out both in the regular season and, more often than not before the Cadets moved up, the playoffs.
Week 4’s matchup with the Knights comes after a back-to-back that includes Homestead and Snider. Picking up a home win against the only competition comparable to what Concordia will see in the 3A postseason will be a good boost heading into another home game in Week 5 against Northrop.
Brandon Davis, senior, quarterback
Davis receives the gift of turf at the revamped Zollner Stadium this fall, a factor that could help bring out the best in the senior.
Davis is at his best when he and his receivers can get into space and make plays. Gone are the days of trying to get traction in the mud or long grass of Zollner.
For Davis, last year must be an anomaly when it comes to the turnovers – 20 INTs. When you are the QB in a spread offense, you need to make some plays. Davis did that at times in 2019, but the Cadets need him to be consistently good. If that happens, Concordia could be set up for a long playoff run.
PREVIOUS OTH FOOTBALL PREVIEW TOP 15 TEAMS