MOORHEAD — Concordia linebacker Alex Berg is getting a second chance at a senior season. Berg, who suffered an ankle injury last fall, only punted for the Cobbers during second half of last season.
Berg later found out he broke his ankle.
"I've been playing football since fourth grade and I didn't want to end my 15-, 16-year career being injured on the sideline," said Berg, who was listed as a senior on the 2018 roster. "I felt like the game has given me so much so I want to go out a different way than being on the sideline hurt."
Berg, who played high school football at Fargo Shanley, also broke his ankle during his freshman season with the Cobbers in 2015. He then applied for a received a medical redshirt, which at the time he wasn't sure he would use. That changed last fall.
"I didn't really think about it the next three years until I broke my ankle last year during the season," Berg said Tuesday during Cobbers football media day at Jake Christiansen Stadium. "I knew that I wanted to use it and come back."
The 6-foot, 210-pound Berg said he officially told the team and coaches last December that he was going to return for a fifth season. The two-time All-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player is set to anchor the Concordia defense, which returns four starters coming off a 5-5 season.
"I kind of had a feeling that he would be coming back," said Cobbers senior Sam Michel. "Just knowing he didn't really get to finish out his career like he wanted to, I had a feeling. That guy is such a competitor, such a great athlete."
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Michel started at an inside linebacker spot last season after Berg's injury. Berg, Michel, senior defensive back Ethan Eagerton and senior linebacker Willie Jukes III are the four returning defensive starters. Concordia allowed 21.4 points per game last season.
Michel was second on the team in tackles last fall with 66. Berg finished with 22 tackles, not being able to play linebacker the second half of the season due to his ankle. Berg injured his ankle against St. Thomas last September, in the fifth game of the year.
"I was really happy to hear that (Berg) was going to be back," said Cobbers coach Terry Horan, entering his 19th season as head coach. "Because when you're young on (defense), it's nice to have two inside linebackers that are coming back with experience. ... Toward the end of the season, obviously, (Berg) didn't want to go out that way."
The Cobbers have four highly ranked teams on their schedule. A nonconference opponent, Wisconsin-Whitewater is ranked No. 4 in the d3football.com preseason poll. MIAC foes St. John's (No. 3), St. Thomas (No. 7) and Bethel (No. 10) are also ranked in the top 10.
The Cobbers open their season Sept. 7 at Wisconsin-La Crosse, which is receiving votes in the preseason Division III poll.
"You have to play the best in my opinion to be the best," Horan said.
In the offseason, the MIAC announced that St. Thomas was being "involuntarily removed" from the league. The Tommies are set to compete in the conference through the end of spring of 2021. That means Concordia has potentially only two more regular-season football games against the Tommies; this season and in the fall of 2020.
"I don't see it being different at all," Horan said of playing the Tommies. "Every time we play them, its a hard-fought, competitive game, a well-coached game, and they've gotten the better of us as of late."
St. Thomas finished in third place in the MIAC last season with an 8-2 overall record and a 6-2 mark in the MIAC. The Cobbers were 4-4 in the league, finishing in fifth place.
"We certainly have competed with them and they're the team that has set the bar in our league," Horan said of St. Thomas. "Are you sad that they are out of our league? Yeah, because we all like to compete and they make us better."