Joe Dolincheck led a group of Morningside College seniors who climbed Pike’s Peak this summer. He will now try to lead them back to the top of NAIA football this fall.
Dolincheck is the centerpiece of the most powerful small-college offense in the nation, one that averaged better than 55 points and 600 yards per game last season while winning the Sioux City, Iowa, school’s third national championship in four years.
With Dolincheck as starting quarterback, Morningside is 38-1 with two titles and has outscored opponents by an average of 37 points per game. Last year, he was NAIA player of the year after completing 68% of his attempts and leading the nation with 342 yards per game and 44 touchdowns.
Now he’s back to use the fifth year of eligibility granted to players whose 2020 season was disrupted by the pandemic.
“I thought to myself for sure I wasn’t coming back,” he said. “I thought I was calling it, going out with a national championship and player of the year.”
Dolincheck’s competitive drive wouldn’t allow him to walk away. He wanted to spend another year with teammates who have become lifelong friends and he also wanted to mentor younger players.
Dolincheck was among 30 seniors who climbed 14,000-foot Pike’s Peak in Colorado, an annual team bonding activity that set the tone for the season. Dolincheck enters his final year having passed for 13,034 yards and 130 touchdowns.
“You talk about just running an offense where you’ve got a number of good weapons,” coach Steve Ryan said. “He has the ability to find the guy who gets left open, and that makes him a very dangerous quarterback.”
DE MICHAEL NOBILE, Delaware Valley State (Pa.)
Nobile is the NCAA’s all-division active career leader in tackles for loss and sacks per game, and he’s recovered from an Achilles tendon tear that prematurely ended what was on track to be his best season.
Nobile had 8.5 sacks before he got hurt early in the sixth game. He used his time off to reshape his body. He said he bulked up his 6-foot frame to about 250 pounds without sacrificing speed.
“I’m the same player as I was, if not better,” Nobile said.
Nobile has 75.5 tackles for loss in 30 games and is the only active player across all divisions to average better than two per game in his career. His 1.2 sacks per game is the highest average among any active player, and his total of 36 is tied for first with two other players.
Nobile would need 31.5 tackles for loss to set the all-division career record and 18 sacks to set the Division III career record.
“I think about breaking those records,” Nobile said. “But when we prepare week after week, I don’t really think about it. I try to think about how I’m going to beat the guy in front of me every play.”
DT MICHAEL WOZNIAK, Saint John’s (Minn.)
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior’s career was interrupted by a hand injury and the pandemic, but he’s found his groove and is poised for a second straight Division III All-America campaign.
“At the end of the 2021 season,” coach Gary Fasch said, “I felt he was the best defensive lineman in our conference, and one of the top in the country.”
Wozniak had 10.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries last year. NFL scouts have attended practices this month to get a closer look.
“Although not oversized at 265 pounds, he is a force in our defensive line that thrives on quickness,” defensive coordinator Jerry Haugen said. “We look for great things from Michael this year.”
RB MARQUES BURGESS, Keiser (Fla.)
Burgess made a big jump last year when he ran for 1,757 yards and 19 touchdowns on 294 carries, all career highs. He went over 100 yards in nine of the final 10 games.
The 5-8, 200-pound senior was the Seahawks’ most dependable offensive player and had more than 25 carries in six games while earning NAIA All-America honors. Burgess already has run for scouts from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one of the NFL’s league-wide scouting organizations.
“We believe he can get himself into the next level with continued development and dominance on the field,” coach Doug Socha said.
WR WAYNE RUBY, Mount Union (Ohio)
Ruby caught a nation-best 105 passes and was second with 1,473 yards. He had seven 100-yard games and elevated his play in the playoffs, catching 30 balls for 465 yards and five touchdowns in four games.
The 6-1, 190-pound senior is poised to make another jump after making the AP Division III All-America second team.
Asked how high Ruby’s ceiling is, coach Geoff Dartt said, “I believe Wayne is ultimately in charge of that. What I do know is he has high standards for himself, and is continuously working to be the best version of himself on and off the field.”
LB DJ WHITE, Georgetown (Ky.)
White began his career at FCS Eastern Kentucky, moved to Division II Colorado Mesa for a year and now has found his niche with the NAIA’s Tigers.
White is relentless pursuing the ball and is the two-time Mid-South Conference Bluegrass Division defensive player of the year. Last season, he had 15.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception.
The 6-4, 250-pound White is a menacing presence whether he’s lining up at linebacker or on the line of scrimmage.
“DJ has a very high ceiling as a pass rusher,” coach Chris Oliver said, “and he will get a thorough evaluation from scouts at the next level because of his size and production.”
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