Second Year Makes a Difference for Jerry Olszewski, Augustana Vikings
"It's home now. Everything is set. The second time you go through it, it is better, easier, and I look forward to that continued growth and challenge for ourselves to be better than what we were yesterday," says first-year head coach Jerry Olszewski.
In Olszewski's first season as head coach, their were some growing pains. At 4-7, the Augustana Vikings were in a lot of games and boasted one of the best defenses in the Northern Sun Conference. Now, players are buying into Olszewski's system, and it's time to start the next step.
"There was such a big learning curve last year in style change and terminology. Now, that's not the case. We can hit things on a more aggressive pattern both offensively and defensively. Start looking truly at the talent level and put the right pieces in place. Younger players are challenging older players. Every spot is up, and that's important that we can continue to challenge ourselves internally so we can we be as good as we can be externally. Year two is such a difference. Everybody knows who we are, what we are about and now, it's really about getting better every day," shares Olszewski.
"I appreciate the work ethic our young men have put in and their attention to detail and how they are working together to be a better football team. I like our team chemistry right now. It's at a really good place and it's only getting better. We're still a young football team, but a year into it, relationships have grown," tells Olszewski.
Making the most strides this spring is redshirt sophomore quarterback Trey Heid, who now has a year under his belt. Olszewki says Heid's confidence and leadership are making a big impact early for the Vikings.
"Yes, he really has. He has as much as anybody on our football team has gained from a year of knowledge in our system. He's playing at a very high level right now with a completion rate over 78 percent in practice and is just becoming a better leader. He's always had the physical tools to do it, but now he understands what to do, how to do it, and has better decision making."
In Heid's redshirt freshman season, he threw for 1,837 yards, 10 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and completed 58.3% of his passes. On the ground, his mobility is an asset after he ran for 339 yards and five scores last year. In 2014, he is likely to be the starter, but two young underclassman (both redshirt freshman), former Brandon Valley standout Chase Marso, and Nate Merriman are pushing Heid.
"He's (Heid) got to be unseeded, obviously as a returning starter, but our other two kids, Marso, and Merriman are both playing well and in the long run are going to make us a better team because of it. The best guy is going to play and Trey is playing the best football right now out of the three," adds Olszewski.
Helping take pressure off Heid is a strong running game, and both Dajon Newell and C.J. Ham are returning. Newell ran for 530 yards and three touchdowns, and Ham rushed for 387 yards and four scores last year.
"It's great because they're both healthy. Last spring, the both of them were beat up. So, to have them both healthy at the same time gives us some more flexibility, formation sets and personnel groups that we want to run. Hopefully, we can keep them healthy as they continue to stage and give each other some much needed time off when necessary and to not have them drop off in play. Dajon's playing better right now when he did at the end of last season, and C.J. continues to be a good football player. Everything he does, he does really well," says Olszewski.
Behind Newell, and Ham is a very deep backfield led by redshirt freshman Jackie Davis from Omaha, and Mitchell natives and twins Justin and Jason Greenway.
Another strong position on offense is the tight end position led by Nick Lee, and Jake Bartscher (out this spring due to mono).The Vikings wide receiver core is still young, but Olszewski says they are developing talent with seniors Grant Gebhardt, and Matt Gerry. Nate Winter and Anthony Huber are providing stability at the fullback spot, while the offensive line could be the best group of position of players. Everyone on the line is back except for one, and developing depth will be the Vikings biggest need.
On the other side of the ball, the defense is welcoming a new defensive coordinator by promoting from within Brian Bergstrom (linebackers coach in 2013). Jordan Malone played for Olszewski in his NCC days, and takes over as the secondary coach. Kelly Scholten will coach the defensive line. After ranking 20th in Division II in scoring defense, and allowing 19.5 points a game last year, Olszewski says the Vikings defense is adjusting smoothly to Bergstrom as the new defensive coordinator.
"It's been good. I was blessed enough to have Bergstrom within our system as linebackers coach and was intimately involved in game planning and calls that went with our defensive structure. Brian's really done a great job with our defense making the necessary changes that were needed to improve from last year."
On the defensive line, senior Jake Lee is the Vikings leader, and he returns at the nose position. Senior Mo Kromah lost some weight, and is a force on the line. Sophomore Bryson Hamilton has more experience, and senior Paul Ingram, coming off of knee surgery, should give the Vikings the depth they are hoping to have in 2014. Their linebackers are their strongest unit. Seniors Ben Skelly, Sam Thorson, and junior Brandon Mohr lead an experienced bunch. Two Roosevelt High School standouts, Jordan Johnson, and Keyvion Mayhan have been sharp at cornerback. The Vikings are still developing at safety.
Olszewski's second recruiting class will bring in 36 kids, and he says it's all about balance.
"Second year in, we're still not where we need to be, but we are growing, learning and getting there as far as position depth. We need to make competition alive and well within our program before we can compete with teams outside of us. I really like our class coming in at the skill positions (running back, defensive back, wide receiver and interior offensive line). I feel good at year two, and there will be players for us in the future."
Augustana will open up the 2014 season at Minnesota-Crookston, and will play five home games (Minnesota-Duluth, Mary, Sioux Falls, Minnesota State-Mankato, and Winona State) and six away games (Minnesota-Crookston, Northern State, Upper Iowa, Wayne State, Concordia-St. Paul, and Southwest Minnesota State). Olszewski's goals for the upcoming season is to keep showing constant progress.
"We want to improve every day. That's the biggest thing for us. Be the best we can be. I don't want to put a record to it. You put a record on it, and go, jeez, be a seven, eight, nine, or ten win football team. I don't know that. I want to improve every day and be the best football team we can be. Whatever win mark that lands, that's where we deserve to be. I think we will be a better football team last year. We were fairly competitive in all, but one game, with the exception of the St. Cloud game. We were in everything in the fourth quarter within a possession drive. We're not that far off, and our kids our committed to changing those numbers and flipping them minimally. It's a day-to-day process and we will as good as we are supposed to be."
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