VERMILLION, S.D. | A quarterback with a season of experience under his belt, a veteran offensive line and one of the top defensive players in the Missouri Valley Conference give the University of South Dakota football team reason to feel optimistic heading into the 2013 season.
Josh Vander Maten, a junior from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, accounted for 2,157 total yards as a sophomore starter last season, passing for 1,662 yards and seven touchdowns.
Six players with starting experience return in the offensive line, while preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference linebacker Tyler Starr anchors the Coyote defense.
South Dakota finished 1-10 overall and winless in the MVC in its first season under Joe Glenn, who came out of retirement to coach his alma mater. Chances are, the Coyotes will improve on that mark.
USD lost four games by three points and another by seven last season and was picked 10th in the MVC preseason coaches poll.
Glenn and his staff have been working overtime to try and right the ship after last year’s disappointing effort.
“We’re trying to put in our whole offense, defense and special teams and these guys (assistant coaches) have been burning the midnight oil,” said Glenn, 189-110 in 25 previous seasons as a collegiate head coach. “Right now they’re getting bombed with a lot of information but we’re pretty sure we’ve got everything installed. But along the way, the season comes around and all of a sudden you’re getting ready for a different team to prepare for every week.
“How you really find out if your team is competing right now is when the defense comes out and maybe wins part of a practice or scrimmage, then the offensive coaches will get all over their guys and the next practice the offense comes out with a purpose. They trade punches pretty well against themselves but I’ve always said we’re not doing these things to beat South Dakota, we’re trying to get ready for Aug. 31 at 2 o’clock when we play UC-Davis in the dome.”
The season opener is one of six home games for the Coyotes, whose murderous schedule includes six teams ranked in the FCS preseason top 25.
Senior Cody O’Neill, who has shifted from guard to center, says a year of experience has strengthened the offensive front.
“The ‘O’ line took a lot of heat last year and me personally, I took a lot of it on my own shoulders,” said O’Neill, a 6-3, 305-pounder from Harvard, Ill. “Me moving to center this year I feel there is a lot more pressure on my shoulders, but all five of us have to show up and play.
“We have kind of a six-guy rotation right now, we’re all a year older, all had experience last year. We’re ready to get on the field and show how hard we’ve worked this summer.”
Along with O’Neill, Derek Chancellor (6-5, 295), Steve Nelson (6-4, 305), Matt Huffer (6-7, 300), Andrew Schofield (6-5, 290) and Marc Murtha (6-6, 310) each have starting experience.
They’ll be opening up holes for a new set of running backs, due to the unfortunate injury suffered by Jasper Sanders during the off-season. Sanders, the team’s top returning rusher, suffered a broken wrist while lifting weights and is out for the season.
Trevor Bouma and Jordan Roberts, a pair of redshirt freshmen, will handle the bulk of the rushing load. Khorey Kilgore, a true freshman from Blue Springs, Mo., could also see playing time.
Bouma, who played at Le Mars Gehlen Catholic, and Roberts, from Sheridan, Wyo., combined to rush for 6,000 yards and 80 touchdowns as high school seniors. They’re both listed at 5-11 and 215 pounds and are both physical, downhill type of runners.
Terrance Terry, a senior, is the top returning receiver with 53 catches for 567 yards. Seniors Anthony Williams, who began his career at Troy University, and speedster Austin Koch are two more veteran targets and Glenn is excited about a group of young receivers, which includes Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley product Brandt Van Roekel.
Jason Petrino, USD’s second-year defensive coordinator, has the luxury of building around Starr, a 6-5, 250-pound dynamo, a preseason All-American who has attracted major attention from NFL scouts.
“Watching Tyler last year and what we asked him to do was a lot on his plate,” said Petrino. “My thing was trying to find out what a guy can bust and Tyler is really good off the edge. He’s really long, athletic and then looking at our read, trying to find out what we can do for him. Tyler is very special but the good news is that Keyen Lage has stepped up and accepted some responsibility and shown some playmaking in the spring and again in August.
“You can move Tyler around anywhere you want knowing you have somebody like Keyen and some other guys.”
During the offseason, Petrino spent time watching film and even made a trip to BYU to study film, specifically on All-American outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
“I went out there and watched film and fell in love with what they’re doing with Van Noy,” said Petrino. “Coach Glenn knows (BYU coach) Bronco Mendenhall and called in some favors and I spent a few days out there. I’m not saying we’re BYU, but we were trying to find another school that has a special player like Tyler and see how they were doing it. We were trying to learn from others.”
The secondary is strong with veterans Devin Taverna and Aaron Swift as leaders, but there are big question marks up front, thanks to injuries and academic issues. In fact, a couple of offensive linemen have been shifted over to defense in order to fill in the gaps.
USD will be hard-pressed to replace punter Cole Zwiefelhofer, who averaged over 40 yards per kick in a four-year career, and kicker Kevin Robb, who led the team in scoring with 45 points last year. It appears that Miles Bergner, a true freshman from Longmont, Colo., will handle both duties this year.
“The spirit and attitude, it all started after last season,” said Glenn. “I’m not looking backwards but from that point going forward, they have outworked any team I’ve ever been a part of ,” said Glenn. “They have lifted and run and done everything they can within the rules and given it their all. Now it’s our point to get then to the game and get them healthy and ready to go and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We got close in a lot of games last year and my whole thing is we have to get better and get better faster than the other teams.”