After practicing for the past month the Concordia football team has had enough. The Cardinals are eager to take off on the 2019 season and will do so with a good mix of experience and youth along with high expectations – something they created themselves after an outstanding 2018 season.
“We are definitely itching to play a game,” says Concordia Head Coach Joshua Schumacher, whose team has been practicing for a month. “We did add another scrimmage this year which was important to us because we graduated a bunch of guys who played a lot for us last year so it was good for us.”
Concordia is coming off its best season in school history last year after finishing 10-3, setting a school record for most wins in a season. The Cardinals jumped out to a 6-1 start which included a 7-3 victory over Saint Francis, the first win over the Cougars in program history.
Concordia earned an at-large bid to the NAIA playoffs where the Cardinals opened with a 31-21 win over Reinhardt in the first round. Concordia lost 54-38 to Benedictine in the quarterfinals.
Reaching the quarterfinals was another step up the ladder for a program that has been steadily climbing since the program began in 2010.
“We have had an awesome steady incline since 2013,” said Schumacher, entering his third season as head coach. Indeed it has. The Cardinals went winless in their first few years before winning 1-3-5-7-9 games before last year’s 10-win season.
Schumacher and the Cardinals believe the talent, drive and experience are there to keep this train rolling – and so do the experts. The Cardinals are ranked sixth in the NAIA Coaches’ Preseason Top 25 Poll and fifth in the Street and Smith’s preseason poll.
“We have nine out of 11 starters back on offense this year,” said Schumacher. “And four or five starters back on defense. We have a younger defense than last year but we are excited about the young guys who will get their chance to play.”
Two of the team’s strengths will be at quarterback and along the offensive line, where four of the five starters from last year are back. Senior quarterback Roger Engle returns after throwing for 2,254 yards and 16 TDs last year. They also have depth at the position with Peter Morrison as a solid backup.
“They both have really improved and both are captains for us,” Schumacher said. “I was really happy with how they both played last year and how both grew and improved.”
Parker Graham (WR/RB) also could see some time behind center.
One of the keys for the Cardinals will be replacing All-American RB Joe Conner who finished with 1,711 all-purpose yards and 20 TDs last season. A young group of backs, including sophomore Omar Sinclair, who finished second on the team with 469 rush yards and 5 TDs and was an All-Conference kick returner last season, are looking to step up into bigger roles. Sophomore Keirell Jackson and senior Bobby Desantis should also get plenty of touches at running back.
The Cardinals should be strong at wideout with the likes of returning senior wide receiver Roderick Dailey (who led the team last year with 689 receiving yards and 5 TDs); senior Clay Coltson (third on the team last year with 322 receiving yards and 3 TDs); and senior Brendan Beerer (253 receiving yards and a TD last year).
On defense, junior defensive back Ryan Fish returns after leading the team with five INTs and finishing fourth with 70 tackles. Senior linebacker Reggie Thompson recorded 67 tackles; senior linebacker Amaan Payne made 53 tackles; and senior defensive back Tarek Dalou had 50 tackles in 2018.
Over the past month, Schumacher has seen his team become a family.
“I was really pleased to see how close the players seem to be and there are a lot of friendships on the team which is great to see,” Schumacher said. “I told them that if they were willing to practice hard this could be a really special season and so far they have. And it’s always fun to see guys who haven’t played before step up into their new roles.”
The Cardinals should score a lot of points, especially if their running backs step up. This hopefully will take some pressure off the defense, allowing them to gain experience and gel as a unit.
“We have seen really good competition for the spots on defense which is always good to see,” Schumacher said. “We will have a few spots where we will rotate guys to see who can get it done during the games.
“Defense has always been a strength of this team in the past so there are those expectations as well.”
Concordia will kick off the 2019 season on Saturday, Sept. 7 when they travel to NCAA Division II opponent Kentucky Wesleyan. The Cardinals will head to Olivet Nazarene the following week for an MSFA crossover match, and the team will hold their home opener on Sept. 21 against the University of Saint Francis IL.