Three days into the grind of the 2014 football preseason and the University of South Dakota football program is seeing already where practice makes, well not perfect, but progress.
One of the major things that has shown progress is the play of the quarterbacks.
Third-year head coach Joe Glenn is pleased with junior signal caller Kevin Earl, who started the last eight games of the 2013 season after stepping in during the Coyotes’ 24-10 loss at Western Illinois.
He then reeled off three straight wins to push USD to a 4-3 mark before the team’s struggles with injuries and lack of depth took its toll in a 4-8 season.
“(The winning streak) did wonders for him,” Glenn said. “He’s doing a really good job.”
For Earl, this fall has created a change in total perspective for the new top man under center.
“It’s different coming into this fall camp compared to last year,” Earl said. “Guys look at you to make plays, be commanding and be a leader. I felt like what I went through last year has made me a better player. Now I just need to continue to get sharper and better every day.”
He also notes that his approach to the game and his lifestyle on and off the field has undergone some retooling.
“It kind of comes with age too,” Earl said of the changes. “I still feel very young, but you can feel your body slowing down so you have to be smarter with what you do.
“More and more people figure out what they think you are and have their own impressions so (off the field) you have to be smart too.”
Following the first three practices that had limited contact Earl is pleased with what he’s seen.
“We are not full go but at the same time I am really excited to see what the season is going to bring,” he said. “We have guys on the offense line that have 3-4 years’ experience and that is huge. They are improving and it helps that we have guys healthy and fresh.”
Watching his quarterbacks play without pads, Glenn sees some potential in sophomore Ryan Saeger who is listed behind Earl on the depth chart.
The coach also said that senior wide receiver Josh Vander Maten could come in handy.
“Josh started at quarterback for a year and four games and if anything happens we can stir the pot with him,” Glenn said.
Overall Glenn is pleased with what he has seen, but knows there is plenty more to come.
“We’re not in pull pads yet or the rigors of fall camp yet,” he said. “Once we have a two-a-day practice I’ll tell you how we’re doing then.”
A defense that at times kept the Coyotes alive in games or secured some big wins is back with a mix of veterans and new players with different agendas.
Some need to learn faster than others and soak up the needs for different roles, but they all have one thing in common:
“They are hustling,” Glenn said of his defense. “They are still learning and we have to get through that and I love the hustle and effort. We got guys who can play defense – they just have to work into our system. I am not worried about the athleticism or toughness, it’s just about learning what we do and having to get experience on the run.”
So far the old adage of the defense being ahead of the offense in the preseason doesn’t appear applicable.
“After one scrimmage I will be able to tell you who is ahead,” Glenn said. “We need to see how they handle officials and game-like situations.”
Glenn said that the team will hold two scrimmages in the upcoming weeks.
The first is planned for Saturday, Aug. 16 and the next one is set for Wednesday, Aug. 20. Both are scheduled for 10 a.m. starts.
A boy among giants
In a nice twist to the breaking of a huddle to wrap a practice, the Coyotes went small.
Peter Cassidy, 12, of Rosemount, MN – the hometown of USD alum and current Washington Redskin offensive lineman Tom Compton – was in town with Argus Leader sports writer and his uncle Mick Garry when coach Glenn added a last-second change to the itinerary.
Cassidy broke the team huddle for the day.
“It was pretty cool, I didn’t expect it to happen because I was waiting for practice to happen,” Cassidy said. “Coach came and said ‘hey, come break the huddle.’
“Everybody is like 6-foot-5 and I am not even five-feet tall.”
Garry was there to cover the Coyotes and introduced his nephew to Glenn.
“Before practice started I introduced him to coach Glenn and told him he was from the same town as Tom Compton, and Peter is a big football fan,”
Glenn was just happy to see Cassidy enjoy the moment.
“It’s exciting and a good moment for him being at a college practice with his uncle and getting to break the team,” Glenn said.
Jasper the friendly speedster
Senior running back Jasper Sanders is back and blazing trails on the DakotaDome turf if not outside.
After missing the 2013 campaign, the Kansas City native who rushed for 264 net yards on 81 carries and three touchdowns in 2012, is ready to deliver on the promise he showed two seasons ago.
“He’s a player and started here two years ago,” Glenn said. “We had high hopes for him last year before he got injured before the season started. It’s really good to have him back. He’s a really good player.”
Sanders is just happy to be back.
“I feel like it’s a blessing,” he said. “It seems like I was out three years even if it’s just been a year. It feels so good to be out here with my teammates.
“When they are travelling, you are just sitting at home. So being back with the team is just so much better.”
In the Valley of expectations
Four Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) teams have been ranked in the preseason FCS coaches poll, with three-time defending national champions North Dakota State ranked No. 1 while the Coyotes’ rivals to the north, South Dakota State have been tabbed as the 10th best team in the country.
All told, the Coyotes battle seven teams from the MVFC that are either ranked or earned votes in the poll and will match wits with two Big Sky teams – the University of Montana (No. 5) and Northern Arizona University (No. 25) – who are in the Top 25.
Add FBS’ No. 4 team, the Ducks of Oregon and the Coyotes have 10 teams of considerable measure on their 2014 schedule.
“It’s a tough schedule, everyone plays a hard schedule,” Glenn said. “But, there are some teams up there in the Top 25 that we beat last year. I don’t know why they deserve to be there more than we do, maybe because they finished with a better record? We got beat up down the stretch and weren’t deep enough and we are deeper now. I hope those things add up to wins. We aren’t afraid of anyone on our schedule and will go toe-to-toe with everybody.”
2014 FCS Coaches Preseason Poll (first-place votes, 2013 record, voter points, final 2013 rank)
1. North Dakota State (18) 15-0 636 1
2. Eastern Washington (6) 12-3 615 3
3. Southeast Louisiana (1) 11-3 542 6
4. New Hampshire 10-5 510 5
5. Montana 10-3 505 8
6. Coastal Carolina 12-3 447 7
7. Towson (1) 13-3 438 2
8. Jacksonville State 12-2 425 12
9. McNeese State 10-3 424 9
10. South Dakota State 9-5 332 14
11. Eastern Illinois 12-2 314 4
12. Fordham 12-2 305 10
13. Villanova 6-5 287 NR
14. Sam Houston State 9-5 277 13
15. Northern Iowa 7-5 263 NR
16. Chattanooga 8-4 238 25
17. Tennessee State 10-4 237 17
18. Furman 8-6 188 21
19. Montana State 7-5 170 20
20. Maine 10-3 169 11
21. Youngtown State 8-4 162 19
22. William & Mary 7-5 159 NR
23. Bethune-Cookman 10-3 136 16
24. Richmond 6-6 118 NR
25. Northern Arizona 9-3 116 15
Others receiving votes: Samford 95, Southern Illinois 59, Harvard 42, Charleston Southern 39, James Madison 30, Princeton 24, Southern Utah 20, Alcorn State 16, Liberty 16, Delaware 15, South Carolina State 15, Cal Poly 14, Missouri State 12, Sacred Heart 10, Wofford 8, Central Arkansas 7, Alabama State 6, Lehigh 6, Eastern Kentucky 4, Holy Cross 1, Illinois State 1, Jacksonville 1.
Media Day set for Tuesday
USD’s annual football media day will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday inside the DakotaDome located on the north side of the USD campus. Members of the media are invited to come down on the field for one-on-one interviews with USD players and coaches at that time.
Prior to the press conference, the Coyotes will have practice at 10 a.m. on the outdoor fields, now located directly north of the DakotaDome and surrounding the USD soccer complex. In case of inclement weather, the practice will move inside the DakotaDome. All Coyote practices are open to the public.
South Dakota kicks off the 2014 season Aug. 30 against Oregon in Eugene, OR. The Coyotes take on William Penn in USD’s home opener Sept. 6.
Coming up this weekend: More of the same as Glenn continues to aim for getting as much of the system in place. Be it offense, defense, or special teams, the coaching staff’s goal for the next week or so is to focus on ‘Coyote football.’
If you are looking for more updates on Coyote football, be sure to check out plaintalk.net every day for team progress reports and breaking news.