VERMILLION, S.D. | Naturally, the University of South Dakota Coyotes are picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll.
That’s what happens when you suffer through a 1-10 season and go winless in league play.
To his credit, though, USD Coach Joe Glenn called the prognostication simply “opinion” during the MVFC media teleconference Monday.
Nontheless, the second-year Coyote boss hopes the doom and gloom prediction lights a fire under his team for the soon-to-be-here 2013 season.
“We have a chip on our shoulder, that’s the way you have to practice and prepare,” Glenn said. “We take it personal.”
Glenn recalled when he was coaching at Montana (he guided the Grizzlies to a Division I-AA national title) they were picked to finish last in the Big Sky Conference and by the end of the season were the champions.
“I don’t put a lot into it,” Glenn said. “I know there are a lot of good football teams in this league. You can put just about any team in that top spot. But honestly, we don’t think we’re going to lose every game in the conference again, but you have to take them one at a time.”
During last year’s forgettable campaign, the Coyotes lost five league games by a touchdown or less.
Moreover, the offensive line is much more experienced than last season, with six players who saw extensive action returning. Quarterback Josh Vander Maten, a former Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley prep standout, has a full year of starting experience under his belt.
And then there’s Tyler Starr.
“Tyler Star is our top football player,” said Glenn of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound senior linebacker from George-Little Rock. “He’s a terrific athlete and he’s at 245 pounds right now. He can play the game and probably should play the game at the next level. We’re looking forward to him having a great season for us.”
Starr was named to the preseason all-league defensive team. He finished with 74 tackles and four sacks last season after a monster sophomore campaign that saw Starr amass a school-record 14 sacks.
Keyen Lage started opposite Starr at linebacker as a true freshman and Glenn has high hopes for Auston Johnson, a junior college transfer. Four starters return on the defensive line, as well as veteran safeties Devin Taverna and Aaron Swift.
Glenn said Vander Maten, a junior who completed 56 percent of his passes and threw for 1,662 yards, has been “tearing up the weight room.”
“He’s the strongest quarterback we’ve ever had here,” said the USD coach. “He’s run under 4.4 on the turf, he’s done the standing broad jump 10 and a half feet, those types of things. He’s a terrific athlete, a great leader and he has a year under his belt. We all know how much that means at the quarterback position.”
Another former Siouxland prep standout, Trevor Bouma from Le Mars Gehlen Catholic, could see a lot more playing time that expected at running back.
Jasper Sanders, a part-time starter last season, suffered a wrist injury and is wearing a cast and awaiting his prognosis. That opens the door for redshirt freshmen Bouma and Jordon Roberts, both 5-11 and 215-pound athletes. The two were standouts on the scout team last fall after combining for more than 6,000 yards and 80 touchdowns in their senior high school seasons.
Two-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State is picked to win the title, followed by South Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Illinois State and Youngstown State. Then come Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Missouri State, Western Illinois and South Dakota.
“We know and understand how good the league is. We can’t control any of that,” Glenn said. “But what we can do is find out exactly what’s best for us in this league as far as what we do on defense and what kind of offense run. We’re trying to build our defense around the better players we have and the same way on offense.”
Mistakes – specifically bad penalties – were a major bugaboo for the Coyotes in 2012. That area has been addressed, according to Glenn.
“We need to be a better disciplined football team, there is no question about it,” Glenn said. “It’s a mental thing and a confidence thing and I think the more you play the game, the more experience you have, the better you become at discipline.”
The Coyotes start the season at home against UC Davis on Aug. 31. The other non-league games are with Kansas (Sept. 7) and Northern Arizona (Sept. 21). Then comes the meat grinder that is the Missouri Valley Conference schedule.
Missouri State, Indiana State, Youngstown State and South Dakota State each pay visits to the DakotaDome.