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Clarke University ready for inaugural football game

Clarke Coach Miguel Regalado has spent two years building new program

Players scrimmage during football practice at Clarke University in Dubuque on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. (Eileen Meslar/Dubuque Telegraph Herald)
Players scrimmage during football practice at Clarke University in Dubuque on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. (Eileen Meslar/Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

DUBUQUE — Miguel Regalado didn’t have a locker room, stadium, or any tradition.

He didn’t even have a staff when he was named the head coach in charge of building Clarke University’s football program from the ground floor.

Regalado possessed a vision for the future of Pride football and he sold players on the philosophy of wanting to get a degree, love of football and the work required to become great at it and the desire to invest in their own future.

“If we get all three of those boxes checked then we feel we have a great group,” said Regalado, who became Clarke’s first head football coach in March 2017 after nine seasons as an assistant at Baker (Kan.) University. “I believe all 86 kids in our program right now have these three things checked and this is going to turn into a really good situation.”

Aspiration becomes reality Saturday when Clarke will play its inaugural football game, hosting Central Methodist University in a Heart of American Athletic Conference contest at Dalzell Field. The game is set for 11:05 a.m. and admission is free.

Former Western Dubuque prep Max Steffen and former West Delaware prep Parker Ostrander are among six Gazette-area athletes on the opening-day roster. Ostrander has anticipated for this moment since he committed to Regalado.

“I’ve been waiting for this awhile just to be able to make history,” Ostrander said. “Hopefully, we start with a win.”

Steffen said he has heard a lot of buzz about the opener. He expects a big crowd and said the more the merrier.

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“I’m just ready to get out there,” Steffen said. “It’s a lot of excitement and also some nerves at the same time.”

Clarke approved the addition of football in January 2015. A little more than two years later, the school chose Regalado from six finalists. He was the offensive coordinator, helping lead Baker to the 2016 NAIA national title game.

Regalado was ready for a new challenge and recognized this unique opportunity.

“You don’t know anybody that’s done anything like this,” Regalado said. “It’s so rare I felt I couldn’t pass it up. That ended up being the thing that made me realize it was too good.”

Recruiting efforts began immediately and Regalado shouldered the load alone at the start. He was able to sign 50 players during the initial campaign, hiring offensive coordinator Aaron Christensen and defensive coordinator Adam Hicks to help with the following class.

“That’s where all of a sudden you’ve got good facilities and 50 guys in there,” Regalado said. “Now, they can start to see what it’s starting to look like. That was my role.”

Despite an entire school year without official competition, Regalado said the program has retained about 85 percent of that first Class of 2018. They have added another freshman group that includes starting offensive linemen Ostrander and former Anamosa prep Shawn Buhr.

“Coach really sold his vision to me,” Ostrander said. “I thought it would be great to set the culture for the football team for however many years to come.”

Steffen was part of the University of Northern Iowa football program, choosing to transfer back to his home county and continue his football career. The junior is expected to play a key role at receiver in a pass-oriented offensive.

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“It’s good to be back home,” Steffen said. “Coach told me everything the program is about and I really liked it. The facilities are great.

“The whole community is super excited and I want to be a part of that. Hopefully, we can make something happen.”

Steffen is one of about seven upperclassmen on the Pride roster. He returns with some experience he can share with a team dominated by underclassmen, getting their first taste of college ball. Steffen, a wideout who was a defensive back at UNI, didn’t see any game action, but learned a lot about preparation.

“The main thing is learned how to practice at the college level, which is really important,” Steffen said. “Just make sure everyone is playing smart and at a high level in practice and obviously in games.”

Regalado, who was nominated for NAIA Coordinator of the Year in 2016, is optimistic about the Pride offense from the start. Tim Evitt, of Concord, Calif., will start at quarterback, playing two years for Los Medanos (Calif.) Community College. He will have capable targets, including the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Steffen.

Evitt will throw from behind a young, but quick and talented offensive line.

“I like our quarterback,” Regalado said. “He’s got game experience. He’s been working his butt off since he got here in spring to become a leader and run our offense at the tempo we want.”

Regalado has high expectations from the defensive front seven. He admits the secondary and kicking games are works in progress.

Former Springville prep Jonathan Kelso, Clayton Hudson, of Lisbon, and MFL MarMac’s Zachery Trudo are also on the roster.

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“We recruited really well here,” Regalado said. “Everybody is doing their part, right now. Everybody knows their role. I’m just excited to see all of our young kids go out and play.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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