SIDELINE SLANTS- 2006 season the strangest of times for Tabor College football

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
It wasn’t the best of times nor was it the worst of times. However, the Tabor College 2006 football season was arguably the strangest of times.

After winning the conference in 2004 and 2005, Tabor finished in the middle of the pack in 2006 with a 5-4 conference record, 6-4 overall.

Ten years ago, everyone would have jumped up and down with joy over such success. In fact, a 6-4 record is still one of the best records in Bluejay football history.

What you thought of this season depends if you’re a half-glass full or a glass half-empty kind of person.

It wasn’t fair to expect Tabor to win a third consecutive championship. The preseason polls had Tabor picked to finish about fourth.

Plus, the team had to adjust to a new head coach and a new offensive style.

Would Tabor have won a championship this year if previous head coach Mike Gardner had stayed? We’ll never know, but it’s doubtful.

One thing is clear. No KCAC team this season was as strong offensively as Tabor was in 2005. But then, no one had a pair of running backs as talented as Ben Brown and Roger Butler.

And no one had the consistency of Tabor’s offense last season, when the Bluejays were a defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare with a balanced running and passing attack.

Nevertheless, Tabor returned a lot of experienced players and an all-conference quarterback, so there was cause for optimism.

What I didn’t expect was for quarterback Ricky Ishida, a successful starting quarterback for most of three seasons, to become a second string quarterback most of his senior season.

And it was more than a little surprising to see Ishida and back-up quarterback Ben Schmidt playing on special teams late in the season.

We won’t know if Coach Robert Rubel’s option offense would have worked in the long run, because Tabor is looking for another head coach.

What we know is that this year’s offense was erratic and turnover-prone early, but got better as the season progressed.

Quarterback DeJuan Jones showed flashes of greatness late in the season.

We also learned that a quarterback who flourishes playing one style of football, isn’t nearly as good in another system.

After experiencing so much success at Tabor, this had to be an extremely challenging season for Ishida, who leaves Tabor with numerous individual records and the most successful quarterback in Bluejay history.

On defense, you could argue that Tabor, minus graduated All-American Jake Schenk, was equally as strong as last year’s unit.

Considering the offense often left the defense in bad field position this year, it was remarkable how seldom the defense yielded points.

For all of the ups and downs, it was a strange season. Consider that Tabor gave up less than 60 yards rushing to Sterling and lost by two touchdowns. That doesn’t happen every day.

Tabor gave up even fewer rushing yards to Southwestern, but had to make a goal-line stand to preserve a narrow victory.

The schedule didn’t do Tabor any favors. One wonders how the season might have turned out differently if Tabor had won its opening game against a strong Kansas Wesleyan team instead of coming up a yard short.

A victory would have given the team some confidence as it developed a new style of offense.

What does the future hold? That’s hard to say. Tabor is searching for another head coach. That person will be the third head coach in three years. That’s not the best way to build program stability, but that’s the hand Tabor has been dealt.

For a team that went 6-4, the future is strangely uncertain. But I’ll take a strange 6-4 season any day over the many one-win and winless seasons in Tabor’s past.

The next hire will go a long way in determining if the Bluejays will continue to be competitive or return to their losing ways.

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