CEDAR FALLS — After a half decade of Farleys — namely Jake, who was followed by Jared — manning Northern Iowa’s middle linebacker position, there will be a different last name making the calls when the 2018 football season kicks off Saturday against Montana.
Duncan Ferch, a senior from State Center, will quarterback UNI’s defense in 2018 after spending the 2016 and ’17 seasons lined up next to Jared as a will (weakside) linebacker.
“As much as you try to beat (Duncan) out, or try to recruit one guy faster or bigger or stronger that might look a little better getting off the bus, they can’t beat him out because he always knows where he’s supposed to be and he knows what he’s supposed to do when he gets there,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “That’s what makes your great players.”
As Farley pointed out, there are players who run quicker 40-yard dashes and bench press more weight than Ferch. But the senior’s masters level grasp of the defense and on-field instincts are the reason he’s been on the field since 2016 and still there.
Headed into 2018 with a plate-full of new responsibility, Ferch is focused on leading UNI’s defense to a quicker start than it’s gotten off to the past couple seasons.
“That’s obviously one of the main things this year, to start out fast,” Ferch said. “Because, when you get into the (UNI-Dome) it’s tough to beat us. We’ve been simulating more game-like things this fall camp so it’s almost like we’ve played a couple games with each other. We’re more familiar with each other than we have been to start the season.”
UNI’s defense will have a minimum of five new starters for its season opener against the No. 24 Grizzlies, so an intangible like familiarity could ultimately be the deciding factor in such a high-stakes matchup. Among the many challenges the Panthers face themselves on Saturday, Washington-Grizzly Stadium will undoubtedly be a factor. It’s one of the FCS’ top-five toughest environments to play in.
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“We’ve played at (North Dakota State), at Iowa State, Iowa, it can’t get that much louder,” Ferch said. “We’re kind of an older group, especially the offense, so we should be able to handle the noise and everything. Just, being stern and saying (the call) once nice and loud for everyone to hear instead of trying to repeat it 20 times and get people confused. That’s one of the biggest things.”
Another factor that looms large on Saturday is first-year Montana head coach Bobby Hauck. Hauck previously coached the Grizzlies from 2003-2009, but his roots are as a special teams coach, therefore UNI’s scouting report is nowhere near as detailed as it will be for other opponents this season.
“We’ve been preparing for everything,” Ferch said. “No running backs — (five) wide receivers. Twenty-two personnel. You never know what they’re going to do.”