SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In 2018, the University of Sioux Falls Cougars earned a 27-24 comeback victory over Concordia-St. Paul to start their season. Last year, the Cougar football team had a lot of unknowns, but this year, the Cougars have all of those questions answered and are ready for game one.
“Yeah we know our parts and we know our pieces and now the part is they have to go out and perform and everyone is back with a year of experience,” USF head coach Jon Anderson said. “It comes down to just because we’re a veteran football team, we’ve got to go out and prove it. We’ve got to go out and play that way.”
The Cougars enter the 2019 season with a long list of returning players from last year, which will make this an experienced squad.
“Some guys that have some more experience, I think in the year previous that had a lot of playing experience but may have not have been starters so, they kind of got under looked per se. This year we have a lot of guys coming back; a lot of guys that played some good football last year for us. So we’re going to have some experienced guys, now we’ve got to put that towards winning ball games,” USF Linebacker Brody Grantham said.
Concordia-St. Paul has been in rebuilding mode the past few seasons. From 2015 to 2017, the Golden Bears only won five games, but in 2018, Concordia posted their best record in four seasons as they finished with 5-6.
“They’re a really good football team that has progressed over the past couple of years, being some good competition,” Grantham said. “We’ve got to come out and be ready to play. They’ve got some good receivers and a good quarterback that knows how to move so, we’ve got to come out ready to play. Last year, we didn’t come out and respect them very much and kind of almost shot ourselves in the foot.”
“Gonna be a veteran group as well. I think they have a number of guys back that played for them last year. They’re going to be confident. The last two years, they’ve had really solid games against us. They were losses, but in my opinion they played well,” Anderson said.
The Cougar offense finished fifth in the NSIC a year ago and will look to improve on their 33 points per game.
“I know the in’s and the out’s now, so no holding back on the offense now. We’re kind of opening up the playbook just a little bit. Coach Chappin trust me a little bit and it’s hard not to trust that backfield back there with Gabe Watson,” USF Quarterback Caden Walters said.
“That’s something that we worked this off season on improving and he’s a confident player. He’s thrown the ball more than anybody has in our program this off season. The receivers know where he is going to put it and he’s put in a ton of work and I’m really proud of him for that,” Anderson said.
The Golden Bear offense averaged nearly 21 points per game last season, which landed them 12th in the NSIC, but this year’s team brings back a lot of talent that will challenge the Cougar defense.
“They’ve got a couple good receivers, a solid running back and a quarterback that is experienced. He’s been playing; started against us two years ago. Got a lot of playing time last year, on and off. They had two quarterbacks that kind of went at it. He can move in the pocket; he can make some pretty good throws so we just got to contain those guys,” Grantham said.
“We need to be able to keep the quarterback in the pocket in early-season games with scrambles and we need to tackle well and win the turnovers. You know all those cliche things that you talk about going into week one,” Anderson said.
USF finished 3rd in the conference last season in defense, but the strength of the Cougars is in the relationship between the players.
“I think it’s family. I think last year we were always family and we always will be a family, but this year it just kind of seems a tighter knit group of guys. Guys that have been together and played together throughout the winter work outs and all those things. So I think we’re going to play a lot tighter as a group,” Grantham said.
“Our brotherhood really, I mean our chemistry is unreal. We’re all interlocked really well, defensively, offensively we all interact with each other. No little groups here and there. Just kind of our comradery,” Walters said.
The Cougars travel to St. Paul to play Concordia-St. Paul on Thursday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.