It's tough to move forward into spring football without one key member of a coaching staff from the previous season. It's really difficult to move on without two.

Almost within two weeks of one another, it was announced that longtime defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson would be leaving to take the defensive coordinator position at Kent State, and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson would take the same position at Wofford College.

Johnson had been with the program at UNI since 2007 where he's coached in a variety of defensive roles. He began serving as defensive coordinator in the 2013 season. During the fall of 2021, UNI ranked 13th in the FCS in scoring defense (18 points allowed per game) and 14th in both total defense (305.3 yards allowed per game) and sacks (35).

Coach Johnson continuously put together some of the best defenses in the country over his tenure as DC with the Panthers, and he looks forward to doing the same in Kent, Ohio. This is what he told Kent State Athletics:

My family and I are ecstatic about the opportunity to work with Coach (Sean) Lewis and his staff. It is an honor to be the defensive coordinator at Kent State University! I am looking forward to building relationships with the staff and student-athletes.

Shawn Watson spent just the 2021 spring and fall seasons at UNI. The Panthers' offense wasn't as effective as the defense over those two seasons, despite his previous success. In the fall, UNI ranked 63rd in scoring (25 ppg), 60th in total offense (363 ypg), 65th in first downs (208 total), 43rd in red-zone offense (83% conversion rate), and 79th in time of possession (29 minutes per game).

Head coach for the Terriers, Josh Conklin, said this to Wofford Athletics:

Shawn is one of the most respected offensive coaches in the country - including his expertise in the development of quarterbacks. Shawn is not a system-driven offensive coordinator. He will identify the strengths of offensive personnel, and then leverage his knowledge to structure schemes that highlight those players. He believes in team first and understands the importance of playing complimentary football. We are fortunate to have him on our staff.

The UNI football program is currently in search of who will replace Johnson and Watson.

While the program will be saying goodbye to two key members of their staff, there is some good news.

In the midst of an era where college athletes leave the programs early to play their respective sports professionally, one of UNI's best athletes has decided to return for another year in Cedar Falls.

FIrst-Team All Missouri Valley Football Conference safety Benny Sapp III announced via Twitter that he'd be returning for his fifth year in 2022.

In a tweet that shared his appreciation for his teammates, coaches, and Panther fans, Sapp finished his statement by saying,

I can't wait to run it back one more time with you all! #EverLoyal

In the fall 2021 season, Sapp registered 52 tackles and led the Panthers with four interceptions. He's widely regarded as arguably (definitely) the best safety in the FCS, and will be vying for an All-American spot in 2022.

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