Making his mark

Ferch looks to solidify his spot in UNI’s linebacker corps

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Northern Iowa junior linebacker Duncan Ferch poses during the Panther football team’s media day event August 2 at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Ferch is fighting for a spot on the starting defense as the Panthers prepare for their Sept. 2 season opener against Iowa State.

CEDAR FALLS — With college football training camps truly heating up this week, many players are looking to set themselves apart from their competition as one of the best players at their position.

Among those looking to solidify their spot in a starting role is West Marshall graduate Duncan Ferch, who is in a heated battle for one of the starting spots at linebacker for the University of Northern Iowa this season.

Panthers linebacker coach D.J. Vokolek, who is one of seven new assistant coaches on the team this year, said during the UNI media day last week that Ferch has been a player that stands out early on in training camp.

“The thing I have been impressed with as far as Duncan goes is his knowledge of the defense,” Vokolek said of the junior from State Center. “He has some experience from playing last year and he has been someone that, so far from what I’ve seen, has made progress each and every day. His experience helps with that, and he is definitely going to play a part in our success this year.”

Last season, Ferch finished fourth on the team in tackles with 60 while playing in all 13 games and starting nine. He recorded double-digit tackles in three games and also had three interceptions, taking two of those all the way in for a touchdown.

As for how he’s liking the new approach to coaching, Ferch said it’s been a change from having defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson working with the linebackers last year, but so far he likes what Vokolek has to offer.

“I like coach Vokolek, he’s different from coach Johnson but I like them both the same,” Ferch said. “He has a good understanding of what we do, he was here a long time ago but we run some of the same stuff so he knows the defense now. He’s helping the young guys and we try to help the young guys too.”

Generally in the Panthers defense, Ferch plays the Mike linebacker, meaning he shades toward the strong side of the offense while the Will linebacker leans toward the weak side. Senior Jared Farley, son of UNI head coach Mark Farley, is essentially locked in at the Will position, but Ferch said they switch around from time to time depending on the offensive formation.

“Mike and Will, they aren’t the same but they are very similar,” Ferch said. “Us as the older guys just switch around, we can all play one or the other, so they are just looking at what fits better, what depth we need and where everyone needs to be right now.”

Usually playing the Mike position comes with the added duty of calling the defensive plays in the huddle after they are sent in from the sidelines. Ferch said that is usually where Farley comes in, however, leaving him room to just focus on the task at hand.

“The Mike usually calls the defense, and I played that last year, but Jared called everything for us last season,” Ferch said. “He got everyone all set up and knowing what they were doing, so that was nice going out there and just knowing my one job, not having to worry about where everyone else is at because I knew Jared would have them where they were supposed to be.”

The official depth chart has not been released for the Panthers’ opener against Iowa State on Sept. 2, and though he has some stiff competition to beat out like senior Tyrell Lyons, a transfer from Florida State who played safety for UNI last season, Vokolek said Ferch will be heavily featured on the defense whether he starts or not.

“Duncan has done some good things so far. He will contribute in one way or another, defense or on special teams,” Vokolek said. “He is too good of a football player to not have on the field sometimes, he has been very coachable and asks good questions. He is knowledgeable about the defense and I am excited to see what he does this year.”

While starting this year is high on his list of goals, Ferch said what he wants to accomplish this season really breaks down to three things.

“Get more tackles, get more interceptions, get more involved,” he said.

When asked for any advice for players back home at West Marshall and anyone looking to play at the next level, Ferch again had a simple set of rules.

“Keep working, keep being in the weight room, and always hustle when you are on the grass,” he said.