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Former coach's work still the blueprint for Blue Hawks' defense

Coach Pete Stanton first crossed paths with former Dickinson State defensive coordinator Arlan Hofland 29 years ago, in 1987. That fall, Stanton was putting together an all-American season as a safety in his last season playing with the Blue Hawk...

In the absence of defensive coordinator Arlan Hofland, Dickinson State head coach Pete Stanton, center, will split play calling duties with defensive line coach Jeff Miller and linebackers coach Dalmin Gibson. (Press File Photo)
In the absence of defensive coordinator Arlan Hofland, Dickinson State head coach Pete Stanton, center, will split play calling duties with defensive line coach Jeff Miller and linebackers coach Dalmin Gibson. (Press File Photo)

Coach Pete Stanton first crossed paths with former Dickinson State defensive coordinator Arlan Hofland 29 years ago, in 1987.

That fall, Stanton was putting together an all-American season as a safety in his last season playing with the Blue Hawks. Hofland was the team's new defensive coordinator.

DSU boasted the best scoring defense (6.8 points per game) and overall defense (217.8 yards per game) in NAIA Division II that season. The Blue Hawks were undefeated in the regular season, and after losing the first game of the playoffs that year in overtime to Carroll College, Stanton stuck around one more year after graduation to serve as an assistant coach. He then spent time coaching high school football in Montana for 11 seasons before finding himself back at DSU in 2000.

Hofland, of course, was still there, coaching in the same position. And so they coexisted for the next 16 years - with Stanton becoming the head coach prior to the 2014 season. But after last year, Hofland finally decided to call it quits.

So when DSU and Montana Western kickoff their seasons today in Miles City, it will be the first time in 29 years, or roughly 300 games, the Blue Hawks will take a field without the backing of Hofland.

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But long before this season's official start, when players and coaches conjugated earlier this month for the start of training camp, Stanton was already beginning to feel the absence.

"It's definitely been a big difference without him here. Obviously he is going to be missed by the coaching staff and the players," said Stanton, who expects his old friend to attend a few home games this season. "I found myself the first couple days looking around for coach. It's just out of habit of being around him the last 16 years and playing for him way back for a year.

"From a football sense and a personal sense, he'll be missed."

Hofland's football mind and stern professionalism yielded some great defenses for the Blue Hawks over the years. Last season, for example, he commanded the fifth-best passing defense in the NAIA. In his first summer since 1987 without schemes and playcalls in mind, he spent time traveling with his wife and being around his family.

Conversely, in their first summer since 1987 without their defensive coordinator, the Blue Hawks' defensive coaching staff spent their time trying to fill the void he left behind.

But because of the strong foundation Hofland left with DSU, the learning curve has been manageable.

There will be no major overhaul of the defense, said defensive line coach Jeff Miller. There was no need.

When the defense trots on to the field today, it'll be in the same 3-4 formation and cover 4 scheme the Blue Hawks displayed last year.

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According to Miller, the changes implemented this summer were minor. A different blitz package here, a name change there.

"He was very good at his job and he did it for a long time, and he was very successful at it. It's one of those deals where you aren't trying to reinvent the wheel if you don't have to," said Miller, who switched from the offensive line to the defensive line this season.

Miller said he and linebackers coach Dalmin Gibson sat down throughout the summer to work through details.

"We've made a few tweaks, nothing major. Not an overhaul," Miller said. "The main thing is the words that are used to describe each package."

In Hofland's absence, the defense will run by committee. There has been no official hire to replace him. It will instead be a collaboration between Miller (the defensive line), Gibson (the linebackers) and Stanton (the defensive backs).

And instead of Hofland's command, Miller and Stanton will split the in-game play calling duties.

"Once we get into the season, it'll be a collab between me calling the front, Stanton calling the back, as well as Gibson having an input. If he wants to put his say into it, he can. That's how we're going to try and run it," Miller said. "But when it comes down to first and 10, I'll call down the front for my guys."

It has been a different training camp for the players receiving those calls as well - new vocabulary, new packages and a new voice in their heads while they're on the field.

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Certain seniors, like defensive captain Drew Johnson, have played their entire college career up to this point under Hofland.

"Coach Hofland means the world to me and a bunch of other guys," he said. "I'd do anything for the guy just like he'd do anything for us. We loved playing for him. It's been a new thing, not having him around. But I think we've adapted pretty well. We knew he wasn't going to be around this fall, and we just had go into the season knowing that. But Coach Miller made the switch to defense; he's done a good job getting us ready, getting us up to date with any changes."

For the Blue Hawks, the transition will become smoother with time. But all said, the wit and character of Hofland will be missed.

"If coach Hofland said something, you listened. He was funny and intense. Very intense," Johnson said. "But he was a great coach."

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