Soon fall air, the smell of fresh popcorn and the sounds of pads clashing will fill Kirkeby-Over Stadium as Augustana football returns to the gridiron for year two of the Olszewski era.
Augustana finished last season 4-7, but, despite the frustration, the Vikings showed positive signs for the future. The relatively young squad opened the season with a win over MSU-Moorhead, but quickly suffered a three-overtime road loss to Minot State.
Augustana rebounded with a 24-0 rout of Bemidji State. However, the Vikings then lost three straight to top-ranked St. Cloud State, a Mike Aldrich-coached Wayne State and powerhouse Minnesota State, despite a halftime lead. A 35-6 victory over Upper Iowa didn’t ease the pain of the next 27-10 loss to USF.
To finish the season, the Vikings defeated Concordia-St. Paul, and suffered losses to Winona State and Southwest Minnesota State University.
With a fresh start this season, the Vikings will look to returning players to carry the squad to more wins.
Augustana returns a solid core of defensive players who finished second in pass defense in the NSIC. Linebackers Ben Skelly, Nate Kirby and Brandon Mohr all return for the Viking defense. Skelly and Mohr finished in the top 10 in the conference for tackles, and Kirby had the second most sacks on the team last season.
Skelly and defensive lineman Jake Lee earned All-NSIC South Division first-team honors. Mohr also received a second-team accolades. Returning junior Justin Brown donned an honorable mention after leading Augustana with three interceptions. Chad Curry, a St. Olaf transfer last season, will return after his two-interception season last fall.
On the offensive side of the ball, every player with rushing yards returns, including top running backs Dajon Newell and CJ Ham, as well as quarterback Trey Heid.
Heid, as a true freshman, threw for 1837 yards and 10 touchdowns, but the Lakeville North product also threw 13 interceptions.
Redshirt freshmen Chase Marso and Nathan Merriman should help make for an interesting quarterback battle leading up to the opening game. All three quarterbacks are between 6’2” and 6’3,” and 188 to 198 pounds, making the battle even more contentious.
The wide-receiving corps loses All-NSIC South Division honorable mention Noah Huisman, Augustana’s only offensive award winner, as well as Darren Niklason, Augustana’s leading receiver in terms of yards and touchdowns. Matt Gerry, Grant Gebhardt and tight end Nick Lee all return for Olszewski this season. Tanner Schulte, younger brother of former Viking standout Tyler Schulte, joins the receiving force this year.
Augustana’s special team returns Lucas Wainman after he suffered a season-ending leg injury. Wainman made 10-10 PAT attempts last season, and set a school record with a 53-yard field goal.
The Vikings’ top point scorer last season, kicker Ben Albrecht, will not be at Augustana next season.
Olszewski’s coaching staff will see some changes this season as former defensive coordinator Jake Dickert took over as the defensive coordinator at Minnesota State. Brian Bergstrom will take over as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator after serving as the linebackers and special teams coach last season.
Jordan Malone will join the coaching ranks as a defensive backs coach. Malone played for Olszewski at Minnesota State, and most recently coached at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.
Augustana will finish week five of spring practices with the annual Spring Preview at Kirkeby-Over Stadium on May 3 at 11:00 am.