ROCK ISLAND — When the Augustana football team hits the field this morning for its first official workout of 2019, the Vikings will be doing so with a veteran bunch that has already gotten a jump on the season.
Coach Steve Bell's Vikings had extra padded spring workouts ahead of the team's June trip to Ireland where more workouts preceded a lopsided victory.
Thanks to those extra sessions, the sixth-year Viking boss is excited about the starting point for this year's club as it looks to improve on a 4-6 season that included a 3-6 CCIW mark.
“Getting those extra practices in can be very beneficial,” said Bell, who is looking for his first winning season at Augie. “Not only being together as a team, but also being able to fine tune things as we went into the Ireland game.”
That game served a great purpose as Bell and his staff took a huge roster of 70 players across the pond.
“We got kids playing time who maybe hadn't played a ton of snaps,” said Bell, noting overseas trips usually feature no more than 40 players. “Kids that had been in backup roles, because of the nature of how the game played out, we got those kids tons of snaps. That was great to see those kids in live action.”
And beginning this morning, he will get to see them — and a lot of others — in action again.
Bell said that 128 kids reported on Tuesday, including nearly 60 newcomers. Those are highs in both categories for his Augustana tenure.
Making it even more encouraging for a successful season is that most of those veterans can and will play.
“The other thing is, we're at the point now where we're not relying on freshmen to come in and play. If a freshman does play for us that means he's pretty darn good,” said Bell. “We're bringing back the majority of our football team. Most of those kids who are coming back have played a ton of snaps in college football, so that's beneficial too. That in combination with the extra work together is pretty helpful.”
As Bell said, the Vikings have plenty of experience back, starting with fifth-year senior quarterback Zach Fuller. He will have most of his offensive line returning along with his top target from last season – Max Uranich, who caught 44 passes for 619 yards and three TDs. The Vikings did graduate workhorse running back Ryan Pitra, but still have some nice options to use in the backfield – including Rock Island's Alek Jacobs, who was a first team All-CCIW selection as a return specialist last year.
Defensively, the Vikings return a number of familiar faces. Leading tackler Luke Sawicki is back at linebacker looking to build on his team MVP junior season. He will be joined up front by 2018 Defensive Player of the Year Xavier Holley and fellow senior out of the Mississippi Athletic Conference, Daniel Tjaden. Those two shared the team lead with 6.5 sacks each.
Locals in the freshman class are: Josh Timm (Alleman HS), Aaron Voss (Rock Island HS), Payton Haynes, (ROWVA HS), Logan Swank (Stark County HS), and Caleb Stone (UTHS). Also joining the Vikings via transfers are Luke Saskowski (Alleman) and Marcus Atnip (Moline HS).