VERMILLION, S.D. | Just by the way he conducts his daily business, it’s plain to see that Josh Vander Maten is a much more confident football player heading into the 2013 season.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley, who begins his second season as the starting quarterback at the University of South Dakota, spoke with confidence during the team’s media day Thursday.
“A year is very valuable at the quarterback position, just being in the Missouri Valley, seeing the athletes and reacting to them, seeing the coverages,” Vander Maten said. “Just learning and growing in our system, a year is definitely a big advantage for me coming into this season.”
Vander Maten completed 151 of 268 passes for 1,662 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 495 yards and six scores last season. He’ll be operating behind a veteran line, which also makes a world of difference, and has a young but talented corps of receivers.
“We have all of our linemen back,” said the versatile Coyote signal-caller. “Everyone who is back has playing time or was in the rotation so it’s good to have those guys have a year under their belt. It’s almost as valuable as it is for me for them to have a year under their belt, to see those blitzes, see those twists. We’re excited to see them improve, I’m excited for those guys this year.”
More than anything, according to offensive coordinator Wesley Beschorner, the Coyotes need to be fully dimensional.
“Some games last year we threw the ball very well and in others we ran very well,” said Beschorner, a former record-setting USD quarterback entering his eighth season on the coaching staff. “In the league we play, teams are going to be able to try and stop something, so we have to be fully dimensional in everything we do, whether it’s just reading to the alley or blocking at the line of scrimmage, it has to be done.”
South Dakota, which suffered through a 1-10 campaign in Joe Glenn’s first season as head coach, has long since put that in the rear view mirror and is looking forward.
“Maturity-wise, experience-wise and discipline-wise, we will be a better team,” said Glenn, a 1971 USD graduate with 189 collegiate coaching wins and three national championships to his credit. “No more of that nonsense we experienced last year like late hits or jumping offside, it just kills you. It not only kills you but it kills your heart, tears your guts out.
“I think we’re beyond that. We’re at a point where I said more than anything to get better we need birthdays. And also with that, we have a recruiting class coming in behind these guys where I think now if we had that happen, if a guy makes a couple of mistakes, I’ll borrow his helmet for a quarter and we’ll put a guy in who can play. We couldn’t do that a year ago.”
The Coyotes lost four games by three points and another by seven in 2012. Mistakes – many of them mental – played a major role in those setbacks.
Speaking of setbacks, South Dakota has already been dealt of couple of those.
Jasper Sanders, the team’s top returning running back, suffered a broken wrist while lifting weights this summer and will be lost for the season. The speedy Sanders, who rushed for 264 yards and three touchdowns, had pins placed in each of his five fingers and will be in a cast for much of the season.
Earv Archambeau, a fifth-year senior from Avon, S.D., tore his Achilles tendon during practice three days ago and is also out for the season.
That opens the door for a pair of redshirt freshmen, Trevor Bouma from Le Mars Gehlen Catholic and Jordan Roberts from Sheridan, Wyo. Seemingly built from the same mold, the 5-11, 215-pound athletes combined for 6,000 yards and 80 touchdowns in their senior high school seasons.
“You put them in a uniform and they look like bookends,” said Glenn. “They’re both 215 pounds and can run about 4.6-something and they can both can cut, jump and move. We’re going to go to a little more north-south running attack.”
Senior Terrance Terry, who had 53 catches for 567 yards and three touchdowns a year ago, is the top returning receiver. Seniors Anthony Williams and Austin Koch are expected to haul in their share of Vander Maten aerials while Glenn gushes about a bevy of young talent at that spot, including Brandt Van Roekel, a true freshman from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley.
Cody O’Neill (6-3, 305) has moved from guard to center and is part of a six-man rotation that saw plenty of action last season. 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 although Murtha is coming back from a season-ending injury in the fourth game.
Defensively, everything centers around senior linebacker Tyler Starr, a 6-5, 250-pound George-Little Rock/Central Lyon product who was named to Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason team. Starr has 18 sacks the last two seasons and comes into 2013 healthy after playing with a banged-up ankle for the good part of last season.
“We all need to be held accountable,” said Starr, who was also one of 20 players named to the 2013 Buck Buchanan Award watch list. “The neatest part about any defense is being able to count on your teammate next to you that he’s going to be where he needs to be. It’s the law of the chain, you’re as strong as your weakest link.
“I had a little bit of an ankle injury last year but I’ve done a lot of rehab on it and have a lot of flexibility. I feel great.”
Keyen Lage had a breakthrough freshman season at linebacker and should take some of the pressure off Starr, while junior college transfer Auston Johnson is a player to watch. Seniors Devin Taverna and Aaron Swift anchor the secondary, but there’s a big question mark up front, where Chris Wiseman has suffered a season-ending injury and Kenny Greer is battling through academic issues.
A couple of offensive linemen, including junior Adam Praska (6-4, 310), have made the switch to the defensive line.
True freshman Miles Bergner and redshirt freshman Brian Saakvitne are fighting for the vacant placekicking and punting duties.
The Coyotes play six home games, but six of their opponents were included in the Football Championship Subdivision preseason top 25, including two-time defending champion North Dakota State, which is No. 1 again.
USD was picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll.
“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,” said Glenn. “If we can win five of those close ones and get a little better on the other ones, they’re talking that six wins in our league might put you in the playoffs this year.
“In 1982 when I was coaching in Montana for my old coach here, Larry Donovan, they picked us dead last in the Big Sky Conference and we won the league and made the national playoffs. It has been done, it can be done.”