VERMILLION, S.D. | The main thing Brandt Van Roekel is crossing his fingers about as he heads into his final season in a South Dakota football uniform is good health.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound fifth-year senior from Boyden, Iowa (Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley High School), has missed a total of eight games because of injury the past three seasons, but deemed himself 100 percent ready to contribute to a deep and talented Coyote receiving corps.
Van Roekel, one of five USD co-captains, shouldn’t have to worry about injuries this fall, simply because of the depth at his position. It will allow players to rotate in and out, giving each other much-needed plays off in the team’s up-tempo offensive scheme.
“We have a pretty deep and super competitive group,” Van Roekel said during the team’s media day at the DakotaDome. “Getting hurt last season, at the time, was really tough but the silver lining was a lot of guys went out there and got a lot of good experience and it’s going to be valuable for us as a whole group this year. I’m excited to see what we can do out there.”
Van Roekel enters the season just 17 yards shy of 1,000 receiving yards for his career. He missed six games because of a freak elbow injury last season, but returned sooner than expected to see action in the final game.
Although any receiver wants to play every down, he’s more than willing to split time with fellow wide outs Riley Donovan, Alonge Brooks, Trystn Ducker, Randy Baker and Shamar Jackson, to name a few.
“With the type of offense we run you can’t realistically play every play at receiver,” Van Roekel said. “So it’s good to have that depth and be able to know the next man up will come in and do a great job.”
Another of the Coyote co-captains is massive 6-5, 280-pound offensive guard Stetson Dagel, who prepped at Cherokee Washington High School. Dagel, the left guard, is one of four returning starters up front front for Coach Bob Nielson and has started 16 games, including all 11 last season.
“The biggest challenge for us as an offensive line is just getting in shape,” Dagel said. “We had a lot of guys in the line who were lighter than they’d like to be and that’s why this offseason was such an emphasis on getting stronger, keeping that weight on and staying in shape. You can still move but also move people.
“We’ve all bought in, we know how good we can be and proved it at some points last year. We just want to carry that into every single game and finish the way we need to.”
The lone graduation casualty in the offensive line was center Nile Banks, who won’t be easy to replace. However, among the favorites to take his place is Mason Scheidegger, a redshirt freshman from Newell-Fonda.
Here’s the catch, though. Scheidegger never played a down at center in his high school career and has yet to snap the ball at USD. Two years ago, he was playing eight-man football.
“It’s been a process, I came in here as a freshman with the thought I was going to redshirt and it was tough at times but once we got into the swing of things this year and started working hard with the team it was a real easy process,” Scheidegger said. “I’m just trying to fight for any playing time I can. When you’re redshirting, at times it feels like you’re not part of the team but when you’re out here practicing it’s a huge learning experience and I feel if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now.”
Siouxland will also be well-represented on the defensive side by Darin Greenfield, a sophomore end from Sheldon, Iowa, and Taylor Lambert, a senior tackle from North Sioux City (Dakota Valley High School).
The 6-3, 220-pound Greenfield was one of eight redshirt freshmen to see action for the Coyotes last season, competing in the final nine games at defensive end. He burst onto the scene with a sack and tackle for loss in his collegiate debut against North Dakota and wound up third on the team with four sacks and seven tackles for loss while leading the team with six quarterback hurries.
“We had a lot of young guys playing last year and got a lot of experience and we’re excelling faster than we did last year,” Greenfield said. “We are moving a lot better and have a lot better chemistry, everything is coming together a lot quicker and you can feel it’s going to be something special.
“Last year was my first year at defensive line and with that whole year and offseason, getting everything right, knowing where I’m supposed to be all the time, I feel 10 times better than I did last year at this time.”
It took a while for the 5-10, 245-pound Lambert to find a position, but the fifth-year senior has found at home clogging up the middle on defense, earning his first collegiate start in last year’s finale against South Dakota State.
Lambert played mostly on special teams and even had a stint at fullback, catching a 5-yard touchdown pass two seasons ago.
“I’ve never been more intelligent with the game and learning its ins and outs as I am this year,” said Lambert, an honor roll student majoring in kinesiology and sports science. “The demeanor on the line is that we’re going to go hard every snap so it should be a good time.
“It wasn’t exactly the typical road one would go to earn a spot on the team. It’s taken a while but made me a bigger person over the years. It was a journey I was willing to take and I’m glad I’m here now.”
Another Siouxlander battling for playing time is Brady Schutt, a redshirt freshman from Orange City, Iowa (MOC-Floyd Valley) who handled punting duties during the spring and according to Nielson is very much in the mix to assume those duties this fall.