Stepping up to the ‘Mike’
New middle linebacker Duncan Ferch comfortable in role leading UNI defense
CEDAR FALLS — Many of the leaders from the 2017 University of Northern Iowa football team’s defense are gone from the program coming into the latest campaign, but one player remains and is ready to take up the reins.
Panther senior and West Marshall High School graduate Duncan Ferch is the clear leader of the defensive unit for UNI, returning as not only the team’s top tackler from 2017, but the fifth-best tackler in all of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
While his numbers clearly show his worth, Panther head coach Mark Farley said where Ferch will contribute most on this defense filled with holes to fill is essentially as a coach on the field.
“You want an experienced person, you want somebody they can look to,” Farley said of Ferch’s role last week at UNI media day. “You can’t be on the field all the time, you can’t be in the locker room with them all the time, who is that voice that they will actually listen to? Even though they might not be looking when they are listening, they are listening to that voice because they trust what that voice is saying.”
Ferch enters his third year starting for the Panthers but first at the middle linebacker, or Mike, position. He takes over a spot left vacant by Farley’s son, Jared, but Ferch said he is ready for the task.
“I am stepping up to the Mike, getting everyone set and people are looking at me so expectations are going to be higher,” Ferch said. “I would expect as a fifth-year senior that that’s kind of what’s needed for this defense too.”
Ferch’s understanding of the defense expands well beyond his position, however, as linebackers coach D.J. Vokolek said it should for the guy calling the defensive signals.
“The thing about Duncan is, he not only knows his position and maybe the guy that’s right next to him, he knows what’s going on up front, he has a great idea of what’s going on behind him,” Vokolek said, “which is valuable because he can not only help guys at his position, but if guys behind him have questions or guys in front of him have questions he has a pretty good knowledge of the defense and can answer.”
As for what he’s done to help bring the younger players along across the defense early in training camp, Ferch said he is just imparting his knowledge as well as he can.
“I’ve been just showing them the ropes in camp, getting everything down, [Farley] threw the whole playbook at us already,” Ferch said. “Some of their heads are kind of spinning, so I’m helping them understand the concepts and breaking it down into sections and groups so they know it better on the field. It’s not always going to be perfect, so they just have to know that and run everywhere.”
One of those newcomers is redshirt freshman and Grundy Center graduate Bryce Flater, who not only is playing his first full season at the college level, but still making the transition from being a dominant running back in high school.
“His technique is phenomenal, I’m just trying to hopefully someday get in the stance that he can be,” Flater, who is currently Ferch’s third-string backup, said. “He’s a great leader as well, an overall great guy.”
Despite his gaudy numbers from last season and his role on the defense, Ferch was not named a preseason pick to the MVFC all-conference teams, though he isn’t stressing about that too badly.
“It’s preseason so it doesn’t really mean anything but it’s another thing to think about for every game,” he said. “Every time you go on the field people think you’re not as good as some other people, so it’s another thing to add on to the list.”
That mentality and ability to carry a chip on his shoulder is one of the many reasons Farley said he is so comfortable having Ferch at the top of what is a talented but inexperienced defensive group.
“Having somebody like him in our program, I think that brings that confidence and poise you need so no matter what happens in the season — you can get high or you can get low, you can face adversity or have celebrations — he can still be that steadying force in the locker room to bring that calm, bring us up or bring it back to base so we can get ready for the next week,” Farley said. “This is all about the next play and the next week, and Duncan gives you that as a calm, steadying force.”
Ferch isn’t buying into the idea that the defense is down from a year ago either. He said though some of the faces have changed, it will still be the Panthers that people expect on the field.
“We have always done that at UNI, ever since I have known the program when I was little, we always reload,” Ferch said. “We’ve got guys on defense that people don’t know about, our D-line they know Bryce Douglas and Rickey Neal but we’ve got four or five guys we can plug in there. The [defensive backs] are really young but they’re talented so they will make names for themselves this year. “
No matter the outcome of this season, it will definitely be the last for Ferch in a Panther uniform and possibly his last playing on the gridiron all together. That fact isn’t lost on the former West Marshall Trojan standout.
“All the guys I’ve been with and redshirted together, we’ve been through everything you can think of in a football season in five years,” he said. “It’s going to suck when it comes to an end, but I’m just enjoying it now.”
2018 UNI Football Schedule
Sept. 1 at Montana, 8 p.m. (SWX)
Sept. 15 at Iowa, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Sept. 22 HAMPTON, 4 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Indiana St., 6 p.m.
Oct. 6 NORTH DAKOTA ST., 1 p.m.
Oct. 13 at South Dakota, 6 p.m.
Oct. 20 SOUTH DAKOTA ST., 4 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Western Illinois, 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 ILLINOIS ST., 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Youngstown St., 11 a.m.
Nov. 17 MISSOURI ST., 4 p.m.