SIOUX CITY — It’s a season of new beginnings for the Briar Cliff football program.
With a new head coach in place, and lots of young players joining the team, the Chargers have plenty of interesting storylines heading into the 2021 season.
Shane LaDage is the new head signal-caller for the Chargers, who finished last year with a 1-8 overall record.
LaDage comes to the Chargers from Minot State University, where he spent the past five years as an assistant coach. LaDage admits that he was a bit surprised when he got the job by just how much talent the Chargers had on their roster.
“You see 1-8 and you are kind of concerned about what is on the roster, and the kids we have,” LaDage said. “But we really got a lot of buy-in from Day One, our kids are really committed to what we’re trying to do. I think that was the biggest thing that was a nice surprise to a certain degree. What we’ve really worked hard on is changing the culture.”
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That culture change has already begun, but LaDage is under no impression that the results on the field will come right away. He knows that rebuilding a program takes time.
This season, the goal for the Chargers is just to be a competitive team. Last season, Briar Cliff struggled offensively, as the team scored more than 10 points in a game only twice. In the final game of the season, the Chargers lost to Dordt, 64-0.
This year, Briar Cliff fans can expect a bit more energy and variety on offense with LaDage in charge. LaDage has an eclectic coaching background, having been co-offensive coordinator at Minot State as well as a wide receivers coach, and also coaching tight ends during a stint at the University of Wyoming.
Coming into training camp, LaDage didn’t really know what the team’s offense was going to look like, but he did say that he planned to adapt it to the skills of the players he had, rather than forcing the roster to adapt to his scheme.
“We’re going to fit to what we have, and we want to spread the ball out a little bit,” LaDage said. “We’re going to push the tempo at times, sometimes we'll slow it down. You’ll see a little bit of a mix of everything. Really, what we’ve got to do in fall camp with this other influx of guys coming in is see who can do what and then fit our personnel and our schemes to it.”
Senior John Bell is the only returning quarterback from last season, which LaDage said might give him a “leg up” to earn the starting job. But there are a few other players also pushing for the spot, in freshman Andres Perez, Devrene Kahananui-Alejado, Javon Deauville, and Luke Davies.
Sophomore Kobe Johnson is back at wide receiver for the Chargers, after leading the team last season with 20 catches for 228 yards. Leading rusher King Waller also returns after rushing for a team-high 259 yards last season on 68 attempts. A few other backs have also returned for the Chargers, including freshman Mar’kaybion Wallace and senior Stanton Lee.
On defense, the Chargers are in wait and see mode, with plenty of young players and new transfers joining the team. There are a lot of unanswered questions that LaDage hopes will be answered in the preseason, but he does know that senior Asi Tupua and sophomore M.J. Montgomery will play a big part in the team’s success.
Montgomery led the team with 73 tackles and six sacks in 2020, en route to a spot on the All-GPAC Honorable Mention team, while Tupua played in nine games for the Chargers in 2020 and recorded 45 tackles and two sacks.
“(Tupua is) an older guy coming back,” LaDage said. “He’s a really good edge rusher. Between him and (Montgomery), we feel that is a perimeter that we can count on to play in the backfield. They’re going to do a lot for us to have success on defense.”
Last year, the Chargers were outscored by opposing offenses, 324- 86.
“I think we all want to look forward, and look at what is ahead of us now,” Tupua said. “Focus on what is right now. Coach LaDage has done a good job of bringing in coaches that embody a good culture, and want us to succeed both on and off the field.”
Joining LaDage on the sideline this season will be defensive coordinator Lee Tennehoff, special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach Nathan Koziol, and Zach Cunha, who will be the co-offensive coordinator with LaDage.
LaDage is realistic about his team coming off of a 1-8 season. He isn’t expecting the Chargers to contend for a national championship quite yet, though maybe that could happen down the line.
Instead, LaDage is just hoping that his guys can be competitive this year. His focus in 2021 is on winning every play in the games and every rep in practice. If the Chargers can do that, they might just be able to win a few games this season.
“I want to see a competitive football team for four quarters, for 10 or 11 weeks, and we’ll see what we can do from there,” LaDage said. “Really continuing to lay a good foundation for years to come. That is what we’re focusing on right now.
“It’ll be a fun year, and we’re looking forward to seeing a lot of our community out there in the fall, supporting us. I’m looking forward to seeing where we can take this thing.”
Briar Cliff will start its season on Aug. 28, at Waldorf University in Forest City.