Lennon, Dieker spring into a new season of Saluki football

By Gus Bode

On the first day of spring practices for the SIU football team, quarterback Chris Dieker was thinking about December.

‘I feel like we are a national championship caliber team,’ Dieker said. ‘That’s what we want to strive for and it starts in spring.’

Dieker and the Salukis took to the McAndrew Stadium turf Monday as they took a collective first step into the 2009 season. Dieker, who was named the team’s starting quarterback a week before its season opener against Hampton, led SIU to a 9-3 record and a Missouri Valley Football Conference championship.

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The Salukis earned the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs’ automatic bid in head coach Dale Lennon’s first year as head coach.

Lennon, who was named the Valley’s Coach of the Year, said he and the team would look to improve on a season that extended the Salukis’ consecutive postseason appearance streak to six years.

The first signs of improvement, Lennon said, come during the 15 spring practices.

‘Spring practice is kind of a fun time in college football. There’s not the pressure to win that game at the end of the week,’ Lennon said. ‘At the same time, you get to see what your team is going to be like. You get to see how some of the young players have developed and how the older players have taken their game to another level.

‘As a coach it’s a fun thing to go through.’

Last season, Dieker and the Saluki offense averaged 29.4 points per game, but they will need to find a replacement for running back Larry Warner. The 5-foot-5 inch speedster was a vocal leader and a leader in the stat sheets.

Warner rushed for 1,265 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. In addition to his skills out of the backfield, Warner returned three kicks for touchdowns.

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With Warner gone, Dieker said he would embrace the opportunity to be the leader of the Saluki offense.

‘I need to be making better decisions and be more consistent. I’ve got to throw the ball better and be a better leader,’ Dieker said. ‘It’s my turn … to be a leader because Larry is gone. It’s my job to direct these guys.’

Because of his experience, Dieker enters the season as the favorite to return as the team’s starting quarterback. However, it will not be an easy path to being the team’s top signal caller.

Army transfer Paul McIntosh and freshman Kory Faulkner join sophomores Bobby Brenneisen and Taylor Beasley in this year’s quarterback derby.

Lennon said he expects an open competition to benefit the team.

‘With Chris Dieker having a full season under his belt, it’s definitely comforting. But we want some of the younger guys to push him,’ Lennon said. ‘We’d like to have that be a competitive battle. You don’t want anyone just coasting through any type of spring drills.’

Lennon also said he expected to open the offense’s playbook more because of the team’s increased familiarity with the system after a full season of learning the modified spread.

The second-year Saluki head coach said Dieker should continue to grow with more plays at his disposal.

‘He did a very good job of doing what he was asked to do. Now he needs to do some instinctive things,’ Lennon said of Dieker, who will be a junior in the fall. ‘When he gets to that level where he’s out there playing and not thinking, that’s a very good place to be for a quarterback.’

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