SIOUX CITY – An anxious group of football players and their parents took up a full room at The Wheelhouse Bar & Grill – one of Sioux City’s newest sports bars – Wednesday night.
The athletes were there to celebrate their future as members of the Morningside College program, which became official as soon as the players signed letters of intent.
Morningside hosted its third annual Football National Signing Day Party, organized by recruiting coordinator Lucas Lueders. There were around 25 players in attendance and before the evening was over, each of them got an official welcome from head coach Steve Ryan.
“I feel really good about the talent of our group and I feel that we’ve hit every position group, which is really important,” Ryan said. “Every year you go into that I think it’s important to keep consistency on your team, that you feel that you’ve effectively hit every position group and we did that with this group.”
Ryan is entering his 16th season, 14 of which have produced NAIA Championship Series appearances – the longest active streak in the country. The Mustangs won their seventh consecutive Great Plains Athletic Conference title last fall and reached the national semifinals before falling to longtime nemesis St. Francis (Ind.).
The highly successful Ryan earned his sixth GPAC Coach of the Year honor last season.
“We put good concentration on a quarterback,” Ryan said, knowing that record-setting quarterback Trent Solsma will be a senior this fall. “We put a lot of work on quarterback this year and offensive and defensive linemen. If you don’t work hard on an offensive line, it sooner or later catches up with you.”
The first player to commit to Morningside was Dillon Wiser, a center from Glenwood, Iowa. The 6-3, 280-pound Wiser felt comfortable the first time he toured the campus.
“I liked the atmosphere and the coaches are really nice and the winning mentality is good,” Wiser said. “Morningside is a great school in that they’re doing good things with their program.
“Depending on whether or not they want me to redshirt, I think I could play my freshman year. I’m looking forward to it.”
The quarterbacks who planned to sign with the Mustangs are Deren Schmitz (Harlan), Casey Keating (Omaha Roncalli), Brandon Watters (Winside, Neb.) and Chase Boeve (Pocahontas). Keating’s father, Brian, played quarterback at Morningside and shares the school record for completions in a game with 30.
Zach Hulshof, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound linebacker from West Sioux, decided to cast his lot with the Mustangs after starring for a team that finished 13-0 and won the Iowa Class A state championship. Hulshof was the Falcons’ leading tackler with 83.5 stops, including 16 tackles for loss and four sacks.
“I’m pumped and really looking forward to it,” Hulshof said. “The decision came down to Northwestern College and here and I really like the atmosphere here and the coaches.
“I don’t see the program going down at all. It’s already built, we just have to keep it going.”
One player who should benefit from the talented crop of incoming quarterbacks is Alex Van Dyke, a wide receiver from Spirit Lake, Iowa. Van Dyke had 29 catches for 495 yards and eight touchdowns during his senior season.
“With the success they have had in the past, I’m super excited to come here and play,” Van Dyke said. “They were the only school to offer me a scholarship and that really hit me that they actually see my potential and what I have to offer. When I visited they were like a family and I really liked that.
“The coaches are super nice and talk to you on a personal level, not just all about football. They want you to be good on and off the field and make you grow as a person.”
Colvin Jenness from Sibley-Ocheyedan is another potential standout at wide receiver and the Mustangs also brought in Jaden Rahn, a tight end from Grand Island (Neb.) Central Catholic.
Along with Wiser, Tyler Anderson of OA-BCIG and Tristan Johnston from Osceola, Iowa are two more linemen who could play on either side of the football.
Coach Ryan feels comfortable with the annual gathering of recruits in one central location.
“We’ve tried to get away from going out and doing the signings,” Ryan said. “They’re quick and you maybe hit one guy’s school and you don’t get another guy’s school. So we felt if we could bring them all together it builds a little bit more enthusiasm and guys can start to get to know each other.”