Dordt football practice

Dordt offensive linemen Jacob Cook, Griffin Pelot, Devon Eekhoff and Rickey Nelson are set to play a key role in the team's success this season.

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | Joel Penner altered the entire football landscape at Dordt College in his first season as head coach, guiding the Defenders to a 5-6 record, the most single-season victories in program history.

This, however, is year two and Penner heads into the 2017 campaign with a realistic outlook.

“Before I was thrown into head coaching I spent 15 years learning from some pretty wise people and making observations about program building,” Penner said. “One thing I saw was that winds of change often bring a level of enthusiasm and that new staff benefits from that. Last year was that year for us. We had tremendous buy in, they were hungry and ready and battled their brains out every week on the field.

“As the program continues there is no longer the excitement of change so we as coaches can no longer rely on that. As we move into year two we’re looking at it as the meat and potatoes year in program development and are hoping we do the best work we can do in that context.”

For the Defenders – picked seventh in the Great Plains Athletic Conference preseason poll – to take the next step, Penner says they have to be better on defense.

The presence of strong safety Joey Lovetere will help. A junior, Lovetere was the team’s leading tackler with 56 solos and 40 assists and an honorable mention All-GPAC pick. Free safety Arie Hoekstra, Penner said, had one of his best offseasons in the weight room.

Josiah Kotte gained 25 pounds and has been moved from safety to linebacker, while Tyson Dahlgrin (6-3, 220) became a disruptive player as a freshman on the defensive line. Blake Nydam, a transfer from Fresno City College, will see action at defensive end.

While the defense must limit the number of points it allows, the offense is looking to rebuild after losing the lion’s share of its productivity in running back Bryce Lidtka and wide receiver Jason Miller.

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Lidtka became Dordt’s first-ever first-team All-American after ranking No. 1 in the NAIA with 1,714 yards and rushing touchdowns with 24. Miller finished second in NAIA with 1,311 receiving yards.

“You don’t replace that because of who they were and what they got, you replace their production,” Penner said. “You can’t forget who got them the football. We have a returning starter at quarterback in Brock Lamle who did a great job of coming on last year.”

Dordt finished No. 1 in the GPAC and No. 5 in NAIA in rushing yards per game (275.4). Penner's squad was third in the GPAC in total offense per game (445.5) and fourth in scoring offense (32.4), both school records.

Keithen Drury, who was neck and neck with Lidtka for the starting running back spot in preseason last fall before becoming a slot receiver, should handle a bulk of the ball-carrying duties.

“It was kind of a one-man show at receiver last year,” Penner said. “The ball will be distributed more this year which should give us a better opportunity to get the ball spread around better in the long run.”

Jake Dodge and Cary Patulea are two freshmen Penner is excited about seeing this fall. Dodge played in 10 games with 16 catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 15 yards per catch.

“We have made tremendous progress in the personnel department and I’m excited to have all my full-time coaches back. They’re a year older and wiser with a tremendous passion and energy,” Penner said. “When you have a staff as good as I do and keep them around and give them an additional chance, those things are critical for us to get there and beyond.”

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