South Dakota Spring Football Recap
2016 had all of the makings of a historic football season at the University of South Dakota. The Coyotes came into the final month of the season sporting a 3-2 record in Missouri Valley Conference play, knowing a strong finish could put them in post season consideration for the first time at FCS level.
But three straight seven-point November losses extinguished that talk quickly as USD limped, instead, to a 4-7 overall mark.
An attempt to lay the groundwork to become a playoff worthy program in head coach Bob Nielson's second season was the focus of this year's Spring Camp, which concluded last Friday (April 21) with the Spring Game.
The Coyotes are strong at the quarterback spot, with University of Minnesota transfer Chris Streveler back for his second season in Vermillion. He'll once again get the majority of the snaps for the USD offense, with sophomore Austin Simmons once again available to give the Coyotes a different look a few times each game.
Coach Nielson says both exceptional running quarterbacks continue to improve their throwing abilities, which will come in handy in 2017 as the Coyotes boast incredible depth at the wide receiver position.
Seven players who caught ten or more passes last season return in 2017, including Tacari Carpenter, Alonge Brooks, and Riley Donovan - who combined for 14 touchdown receptions. Senior Brandt Van Roekel averaged 20 yards per catch last season and is hoping to stay healthy after missing four games in 2016.
Michael Frederick is the only established running back coming into the season, but last season's return specialist Paul Anderson will get a chance to carry the ball from the running back spot this season.
Up front, the Coyotes return four starters on the offensive line, which is anchored by senior guards Stetson Dagel and Ed Kennedy.
Defensively, USD lost key players Jet Moreland, Tyson Graham, Devon O'Farrell, and Jacob Warner to graduation, but do return starters Taylor Lambert and Jake Leohr up front.
At linebacker, last season's second leading tackler Jim Lirtrenta is back, as is John Wessel, who missed ten games last season with an injury.
Both starting corners return - Adam Harris and Danny Rambo, while Andrew Gray, Clay Fisher, and Doug Lewis will see time at safety.
Perhaps the biggest hole on the roster to fill is at kicker, where Miles Bergner, one of the top kickers in the nation last season, has graduated. Junior Ethan James made three field goals in the Spring Game, but could be challenged by a couple of new faces once practices begin in the Summer.
I talked with USD head coach Bob Nielson about his second Spring Camp in Vermillion: