2014 Training Camp Tour - AUG

All good things must come to an end, someone much smarter than me either said or wrote long ago, and so is the case with the 2014 MIAC Football Training Camp Tour. My last stop was one of the best, as I spent Wednesday afternoon under an overcast Minneapolis sky watching the Augsburg College Auggies prepare for their first game - a big one on Saturday night against No. 17-ranked Wartburg.

It's been a fun and educational process, visiting each of our nine football teams and getting to visit with coaches, student-athletes, athletic trainers, sports information directors and other athletic department personnel. One constant has been the passion and excitement for the upcoming season. It's clear that everyone thinks the level of football continues to rise in the MIAC, and after what I was able to see with my own two eyes, I'd have to agree.

Below is my final "Nine-for-Nine" on Augsburg ... nine takes for each of my nine stops on the tour. There is a 2014 MIAC Football Training Camp Tour Home Page on the MIAC site so you can re-live all the fun in anticipation of Saturday's kickoff, and I'll be doing my weekly football preview for Week 1 later today, with a wrap-up of the tour coming in feature and video form tomorrow. Hopefully, this series has satisfied your football craving as the countdown to kickoff 2014 has ticked away over the past two weeks. Thanks to everyone who checked out the videos and blogs, and I hope see you at a MIAC football game this fall!


No. 1 - Working hard
At each stop of the tour, my first question to coaches and players was, "How has camp gone this fall?" The standard answer was positive. I finally got a little different tune from star Augsburg QB Ayrton Scott when I asked him that yesterday. He told me camp was really tough and the team was really put to the test to get in the best shape possible leading up to the season. He went on to tell me that it went well and the team really responded, but reiterated how hard the team worked throughout camp. Part of that has to be how the Auggies start the season - at home under the lights Saturday night against No. 17 Wartburg. With such a big game right off the bat, it's clear the Auggies have been putting in maximum effort to get ready to go. Also, this team has been on the cusp of greatness the last few years, so the increased intensity in camp could be their push to take that last step into MIAC title and Playoff contention.

No. 2 - Starts with Scott
A major reason the Auggies have been on the cusp of greatness has been the play of Scott over his first two seasons. A starter from day one, the Augsburg QB is a two-time All-MIAC selection. As a freshman, Scott led the MIAC in rushing yards per game (143.6) and touchdown passes (26), ranked second in passing yards per game (224.5) and was third in rushing touchdowns (12). He was third in the nation in total offense with 368.1 yards per game. Last year, he threw for more yards to lead the league (276.7) and he again led the MIAC with 25 touchdown passes, but his rushing numbers dropped off due to some issues with a hamstring injury. Last year Scott ran for 647 yards and just five scores on the ground. Haege said Scott is fully healthy again and dropped 10 or 15 pounds to improve his speed and mobility, and they fully expect him to return to his lethal dual-threat status this season. The MIAC is loaded with quarterbacks this season, and Scott just may be the best of the bunch. For more on Scott, check out this great feature in the Star Tribune by Rachel Blount.

All-MIAC QB Ayrton Scott is back and hopes to return
to the dual-threat form of his freshman season.
No. 3 - Weapons aplenty
The only thing better than having a two-time All-MIAC QB under center is having more than enough weapons around him. Augsburg will again field one of the league's most impressive arrays of skill players, despite the losses of All-MIAC TE Adam Carl and Second Team RB Phil Putratz. Star WR Joey Sonnenfeld is back after a breakout season where he led the MIAC in receiving yards per game (108.7), receiving TDs (13) and averaged 15.2 yards per catch en route to All-MIAC honors. Second-Team All-MIAC RB Jerise Washington will step into a featured role in the backfield, and he'll team with Scott to give the Auggies a dangerous 1-2 punch in the run game and he's also a big asset in the passing game. Erickson Saye should also have a chance to move the chains for Augsburg and adds to the offensive depth. The team also adds Minnesota State-Mankato transfer Hunter Friesen at wideout, and Haege thinks he'll give Scott another great target and make a big impact in his first season in the MIAC.

No. 4 - Patching the holes
Despite all that weaponry back for the Augsburg offense, both Scott and Haege addressed some concerns the team is working to clean up. The Auggies were the league's most penalized team a year ago, with 65 total flags costing them 618 yards (second-most in the MIAC) throughout the season. In addition, Augsburg struggled taking care of the football, losing 13 of its 27 fumbles and Scott offset his 25 TD passes with 15 interceptions. The junior QB addressed that issue head-on, saying he needs to be more careful with the ball. This is just a guess, but that hamstring injury last season could've forced him into throwing into tighter windows, rather than taking off and running when he didn't see any open receivers, so Augsburg is hoping improved health and experience for their star will result in fewer turnovers. The team also gave up the second-most sacks in the league (19) in 2013, and expects to get better play out of the offensive line this season.

Augsburg should have one of the MIAC's
most explosive offenses in 2014.
No. 5 - Room for improvement
Though the Augsburg defense wasn't a liability last year - it ranked fifth in yards allowed (356.7 per game) and sixth in scoring (26 points per game) - Haege has higher hopes for the unit in 2014. The team lost one of its leaders in All-MIAC DB Hakeem Bourne-McFarlane, and All-MIAC LB Michael Juberian and his MIAC-leading 141 tackles are currently sidelined via a suspension to start the season, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. First-Team All-MIAC DL Chris DeVet is back after making 63 tackles, five sacks and 12 TFL a year ago, and DB Felix Coleman racked up 83 tackles, four TFL, two interceptions and his four forced fumbles tied for the league lead. The defense helped offset some of the offense's turnover woes by recovering 16 fumbles and picking off 15 passes. Haege also has some exciting new faces on defense that he thinks can help that unit improve in 2014 once they mix in with the veterans.

No. 6 - Getting more special on special teams
The kicking game was a concern for Augsburg a year ago, and even a little improvement there could be big for a team on the rise. Last year, Auggie kickers were just 3-for-6 on field goals and 30-for-42 on PATs. Those numbers will need to improve, or Haege will have to think about going for more fourth downs and two-point conversions. Punting wasn't much better, as four different Auggie punters averaged just 32.3 yards per punt with just six inside the 20. In fact, Augsburg's leading punter was - you guessed it - Ayrton Scott, who kicked it away six times for a 36.7 average. The team should again be extremely good in the return game even with All-MIAC returner Bourne-McFarlane gone to graduation. Washington, Save, Tyrell Martin and some athletic newcomers give Haege plenty of electric options in both kick and punt return formations.

No. 7 - Adding a video board, losing a legend
Even though it won't have anything to do with the team's performance on the field, Augsburg fans have a lot to be excited about with the addition of a new video scoreboard at Edor Nelson Field. The 20-feet-high by 40-feet-wide jumbotron was unveiled on August 18 during a 100th birthday celebration for the field's namesake. The glamorous addition to the Auggies stadium will enhance the game-day experience, and Haege told me those type of amenities don't hurt in recruiting either. Unfortunately, the field's namesake won't get to see it in action, as Nelson passed away last week. Expect the team to keep the Augsburg legend's memory in their hearts and minds throughout the season.

Head Coach Frank Haege addresses the
Auggies at Wednesday's practice.
No. 8 - A play or two away
Though Augsburg was 5-5 overall and 3-5 in the MIAC last season, that record isn't indicative of the product on the field. The Auggies started 3-0 and four of the five losses came by a four points or less. The team dropped a 31-28 decision at MIAC champ Bethel, suffered a 30-28 loss at Saint John's, fell to St. Thomas 17-14 at home and saw a 17-point lead evaporate in the fourth quarter in a season-ending 49-45 loss at Carleton. With Scott back - and healthy - and most of the team's top offensive weapons back in place, that experience in those near misses will go a long way in 2014. Not only will Augsburg enter each games - even against the Royals and Tommies - confident it can play with the league's elite, it will now have experience in close games against great opponents. Those factors could be big if the Auggies can put themselves in similar positions late in games again in 2014.

No. 9 - Navigating the schedule
Augsbug will open with No. 17 Wartburg Saturday night in a game that could be a big indicator of how the Auggies will fare this season. MIAC Champion Bethel dispatched of Wartburg in a close game in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, so if the Auggies can open with a win, they could announce their intentions of being a top 25 team and title contender. Augsburg has an interesting schedule breakdown with the opener against Wartburg, a final game at Bethel and back-to-back games in mid-October against the MIAC's other top teams - St. Thomas and Concordia. They'll finish September hosting Gustavus, and will open November with a home game against Saint John's, which will also be crucial to the team's final spot in the standings. Basically, Augsburg should be a team to watch with seemingly big matchups on the schedule every week. If the team can get off to a hot start and build momentum over the season's first three or four weeks, it will enter its big MIAC matchups with a ton of confidence, and could find itself in the mix for the NCAA Playoffs and the conference title.

2014 MIAC Football Training Camp Tour
Aug. 25 - Bethel
Aug. 28 - Saint John's
Aug. 29 - Concordia
Aug. 30 - St. Thomas
Aug. 31 - St. Olaf
Sept. 1 - Carleton
Sept. 2 - Hamline
Sept. 3 - Gustavus

Sept. 4 - Augsburg

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