VERMILLION, S.D. | Sticking with his priority of bringing in big bodies to both sides of the lines, half of South Dakota football coach Bob Nielson’s list of 16 early signees are linemen.

Nielson made it known when he was hired at USD two years ago that solidifying both the offensive and defensive fronts would be a critical step in the transformation of the program.

“We’re very pleased with the group that committed early, we’re certainly not done recruiting, we’ve got some areas we’ll have to continue to work on and address on the later signing period, but we’ve also got some position groups we were able to address our needs,” Nielson said on Wednesday. “From a line perspective, we continue to work on building our depth there and wanted some guys that brought a little bit more length to our team and growth potential. And, continuing to address some of the areas where we need to upgrade our perimeter athleticism.”

Seven of the 16 players who cast their lot with the Coyotes during the first-ever early signing period are linemen. The class also includes two linebackers, two quarterbacks, two wide receivers, a running back, tight end and defensive back.

Two of the athletes – running back Canaan Cox and wide receiver Carter Kuchel – played on a Remsen St. Mary’s team that was the Iowa eight-player state runner-up.

Although small in stature, the 5-8, 165-pound Cox packs plenty of punch. In his only season at St. Mary’s, Cox rushed for 2,113 yards (10.1 per carry) and 39 touchdowns. As a junior at Statesville Christian High School in North Carolina, he amassed 2,343 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns, leading his team to the Division III state championship.

Kuchel, a 6-2, 180-pound speedster, caught 118 passes for 2,631 yards and 43 touchdowns in four seasons at St. Mary’s. Kuchel will join the program as a walk-on.

“I think both of those guys have great potential,” Nielson said. “We’re a team that tries to utilize those perimeter players in multiple ways and I think they fit the bill in that regard.”

The four behemoth offensive linemen are Isaac Erbes (6-5, 320) from Urbandale, Iowa; Bryce Kennedy (6-7, 300) from Virginia, Minnesota; Kian Rexroat-Pitts (6-6, 310) from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and Trevor Shohoney (6-3, 300) from Franklin, Wisconsin.

The defensive linemen include Ethan Burson (6-4, 275) from Springfield, Missouri; Ja’Von Hune (6-2, 230) from Wentzville, Missouri and Brendan Webb (6-4, 205) from Buhler, Kansas.

South Dakota took a step forward in both areas this season when it put together an 8-5 campaign, reached the FCS playoffs and won a first-round game.

Tyler Foote is a 6-2, 220-pound quarterback from Florissant, Missouri, who led John Burroughs High School to state titles in both football and track and field. He passed for 2,193 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior and 2,121 yards and 35 touchdowns as a sophomore and had several other FCS offers.

“He’s a bigger, more physical quarterback,” Nielson said. “He can throw the ball very, very well and he’s also a good athlete.”

Hunter Headlee of Harrisburg, South Dakota, excelled at both quarterback and linebacker in high school and will walk on at USD as a linebacker. Headlee will join his older brother, Jacob, who will be a sophomore defensive tackle at USD next season.

Nielson is a proponent of the early signing period, which the NCAA made available this past spring. The 72-hour signing period runs from Dec. 20-22. The next available signing date for football players is the traditional Feb. 7 slot.

“It certainly puts us in a position where you know exactly what we need to do for the month of January for the February signing date to complete the class,” Nielson said. “I think it’s good for the kids that know and were ready to make a commitment to be done with the recruiting process so they can focus solely on the rest of their senior year and getting ready for college.

“Next year the early signing date will become even more the norm with the fact that the changes that will go into effect with the recruiting calendar allowing for visits early or earlier than the November-December period which is typically taken now will allow young men to get all the information they need and not feel as pressed as they might have been this year with the early signing date.”

Next year, the NCAA will allow the ability to visit in the spring, which has never been the case before.

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