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No rest for Northern Iowa Football Team

Matt Levins, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

CEDAR FALLS – The University of Northern Iowa football team has been synonymous with winning ever since head coach Mark Farley returned to his alma mater 11 years ago.

In those 11 seasons, the Panthers have gone 99-40, including 60-20 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They have won seven MVC titles, had six 10-win seasons, qualified for the playoffs seven times, played in three national semifinal games and one national championship games and have been ranked in the top 25 nationally for 94 straight weeks.

Last season, the Panthers tied for the MVC title with eventual national champion North Dakota State and advanced to the national quarterfinals before falling at Montana.

So just what will the Panthers do for an encore this season?

Farley won’t have to wait long to see what his team is made of. In the first five weeks, UNI plays at Wisconsin, at Iowa, at Youngstown State and hosts North Dakota State.

By the time UNI reaches its bye week on Oct. 6, Farley will know where his team stands.

“Camp is probably more crucial to us this year, just because of the way the schedule lines u,” Farley said during Saturday’s media day at the UNI-Dome. “We have to be very good, very early. That open week doesn’t come until about midseason. It will be different how we approach what we’re doing only because we’re trying to look at the schedule, look at the experience we have and the players we have and try to get the best camp that we can have in the next two weeks.”

The Panthers have questions to answer at several key positions. They return seven starters on offense and five on defense.

The first order of business is finding a quarterback. Gone is All-MVC quarterback Tirrell Rennie, who could hurt teams as much with his legs as his arm. He led the team in rushing last season with 885 yards and threw for another 1,802 yards.

Vying for the starting quarterback spot are sophomores Stephen Kaiser and Jared Lanpher and freshmen Justin Black and Sawyer Kollmorgen. While none of the four can run like Rennie, Farley believes all are better passers.

“We’ve got four quality quarterbacks. We have not, in our time here, had four quarterbacks who can throw the ball like these four quarterbacks can,” Farley said. “There are some very good balls being thrown out there in some very tight spots.”

Running back also figures to be a strength, led by senior Carlos Anderson and sophomore David Johnson. Johnson gained 822 yards and scored nine touchdowns last year. Anderson is finally healthy this season and is coming off a subpar season in which he rushed for just 410 yards and did not score a single touchdowns.

“We’re looking very good there. Carlos has that attitude of missing a season,” Farley said. “David Johnson is a big, strong man. He’ll bring another dimension to the game that we need.”

The Panthers will have to replace graduated receiver Jarred Herring of Burlington. Herring led the team in receiving last year. Senior Terrell Sinkfield leads the way after catching 28 passes for 464 yards and six scores last year.

Senior center Brian Palagini and senior guard Tim Sauer anchor the offensive line.

Defense has been the Panthers’ strong suit under Farley. This year, with plenty of questions to answer in the line and at linebacker, the Panthers will look to a solid secondary led by four seniors.

Cornerback Varmah Sonie is a preseason first team all-MVC pick, while J.J. Swaim will be at the other cornerback spot. Garrett Scott and Wilmot Wellington of Fairfield will be the safeties.

Jordan Webb, a redshirt freshman from Burlington, also looks to see playing time in the secondary.

“Varmah is a very good football player. Pound for pound he’s as good of a football player that ever put his foot on that field,” Farley said. “Scott is about as heady a football player as you’ll find.”

Junior kicker Tyler Sievertsen garnered preseason All-America accolades. He was 18-for-20 in field goal attempts and 39-for-39 in PATs last year.

For the Panthers, who are picked to finish second in the MVC behind North Dakota State, it all comes down to the schedule. By Oct. 6, the Panthers will know where they stand.

“It’s all about the league. Youngstown is the first league game. North Dakota State holds itself alone because it’s the national champion,” Farley said. “We can’t come up for air. What we do in camp is what we are.”

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