Dubuque University’s football team averaged 39.8 points a game last year, which was tops in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
With three weeks until the Spartans open the season at Bethel University in Minnesota, Drew Nystrom is working on making the offense even more potent.
“Offensively, we have a lot of weapons,” said Nystrom, a Prairie Ridge graduate who is the team’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. “This might be the most talented team we’ve ever had.”
The Spartans finished 8-2 last season, including a 6-2 conference record that earned second place.
Big plays in the passing game were a highlight as six wide receivers averaged at least 15 yards a catch and senior quarterback Conor Feckley threw for 37 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“The playmakers we had made plays when the opportunities presented themselves,” Nystrom said. “The quarterbacks and the wide receivers were in sync, and we had a lot of speed on the edges.”
The team returns its top five receivers from a year ago.
While the passing attack ranked second in the league at an average of 312.9 yards, the run game lagged behind, ranking last in the nine-team conference (122.8). With its top three running backs returning, along with several key pieces on the offensive line, Nystrom’s focus on the ground game is apparent.
“In 2015, we started four seniors and a junior up front,” he said.
Last season, the Spartans began the season with two seniors – one of which was a transfer – along with a junior and two sophomores.
“There’s going to be a little more experience up front this year, a little more cohesion,” Nystrom said. “We knew we were the weak link last year. We have to continue to develop our physical mentality.”
The Spartans return their two youngest starters from last year in Woodstock North grad Jacob Britton and Grant’s Collin Stefanowski, who started every game at right tackle and center, respectively.
“A lot of our success is going to hinge on our offensive line,” Nystrom said.
Britton’s development last season was immense. He did not see any game action as a freshman in 2015, then started every game last season.
“He’s such an intelligent kid,” Nystrom said. “He’s really picking up the offense.”
Thanks to a couple of recent eight-win seasons, the Spartans have recruited strong classes, especially up front.
“There’s competition across the board,” Nystrom said. “That excites me the most.”
Though the team lost a pair of defensive linemen to graduation, Grayslake North grad Bronson Watson is expected to play a much bigger role after playing in nine games as a true freshman.
“We’re going to rely heavily on him,” Nystrom said.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.