SIOUX CITY | Spring practice for the Morningside football team has had a different feel this year. Ask any player, any position group, and there is a different vibe around the Mustang program.
“The attitude we have from last year is different whether it is on offense or defense in terms of really priding ourselves on being brothers, we really want to focus on brotherhood and that is what has brought us together,” senior-to-be linebacker Logan Rozeboom said. “We are as tight-knit as it has ever been since I have been here.”
That bond is necessary for the team and each position group for the Mustangs, who were ranked sixth in the nation coming into spring ball, to achieve success. That is what is being developed with the Morningside linebackers as they return two veterans and another adjusting to a bigger role in the middle of one of the best defenses in the nation.
“We picked up the competition this year, we have definitely been flying around more and been battling with the offense more,” said linebacker Caden McDonald as he prepares for his final season.
The Mustangs return two of their three starters in McDonald and Rozeboom who remain at their spots on the outside. Jesse Faltys is stepping into the starting role at middle linebacker replacing Luke Grooters.
McDonald, who sat behind Zac Schleuger for three years, flourished in his first year as a starter as he led the team in tackles with 78 and had a team-best 22.5 tackles for loss while Rozeboom added 10.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Faltys saw action in 12 games recording 24 tackles and two sacks, but his biggest job next season will be leading the communication between the linebackers.
“It is getting Jesse used to running the defense as Luke Grooters did and hopefully communicating with him,” said McDonald. “Jesse has done a phenomenal job. He communicates with us, he's working hard, filling gaps and doing what he should. He is the connection between me and Rozy making the shots and calls.”
Faltys, who will be a junior, is taking the spring as a chance to learn and improve with each practice.
“Every day you just have to look to get better,” he said. “From my freshman year to now it is realizing how big practice is and what weightlifting does.
“It is working on the details and communication. … You come in freshman year and you don’t know anything, you don’t know the defense, but they slow it down a lot just to teach you the basics of the defense and you need to catch on real fast.”
Faltys, like almost every player on a deep and talented Morningside roster, has to wait a season or two before being able to make a major contribution. That time waiting behind a starter is not to be wasted.
“We had a lot of All-Americans at the (middle) linebacker position my freshman year so it was nice watching them and learning what they do and apply it to my game,” Faltys said.
The defense allows its linebackers to attack the ball and get after the quarterback which appeals to all three players. McDonald believes this current group at the position has a chance to be every bit as good as last season or better.
“I feel last year because we switched defense we were a little hesitant,” McDonald said. “We gained momentum throughout the year, but I think this year it is going to be kicked off from the start. We are going to be a faster group, Jesse is faster than Luke, and we have a faster group of guys that can play.”
Rozeboom, who began his Morningside career as a running back before switching to defense, has reached a comfort level that comes with experience.
“I am really focusing on the little things so I can make big things happen,” he said. “I feel more comfortable in my spot.”
All three credit co-defensive coordinator Casey Jacobsen for creating an environment where they can play freely without having to overthink responsibilities on the field.
“It is really fun because Coach Jake tells us to go 100 percent and hit someone,” Faltys said. “You mess up, go 100 percent and get after it.”