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Depth up front again a focus for USD football
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Depth up front again a focus for USD football


VERMILLION, S.D. – Depth in the offensive line is something that takes a while to build, which is one reason why in his three seasons at South Dakota, Coach Bob Nielson has concentrated heavily on recruiting up front.

Of the 13 who inked National Letters of Intent on the final day of the early signing period Wednesday, nine are either offensive or defensive linemen.

“We’re excited about this group, obviously we have a little work to do as we move ahead but it’s definitely a group that’s going to help us,” Nielson said.

“I think there are really two themes (to recruiting), keep building our depth in the offensive line which was an area that takes a little time to build. Then, just trying to recruit throughout the three levels of the defense and increase our athleticism there and our depth on that side of the ball.”

The group also includes three defensive backs, two linebackers and a high school quarterback converting to wide receiver.

One of the defensive linemen joining the fold will be Nick Gaes, a 6-4, 235-pounder from Alta, Iowa (Alta-Aurelia High School). Gaes earned first-team all-state honors at linebacker and was the Iowa Class A District 3 Defensive Player of the Year.

Gaes amassed 205 career tackles, with 61 for loss and 36 sacks, and also forced six fumbles. This past season, he totaled 84 tackles, 24 for loss, and 12 solo sacks while earning All-Northwest Iowa honors for the second consecutive season.

“He’s a young man we’re really excited about, a guy that is a multiple sport athlete and we think is going to really grow and develop as a college football player,” Nielson said. “He’s a very dynamic type of player by the way he plays on the field and certainly a guy that we think has a great future here.

“Something I’ve always believed is that the multiple sport athletes have great upside in their development as players at the college level. This class is made up of a number of those type of guys.”

The remaining three defensive linemen signed by the Coyotes are Blake Holden (6-3, 265) from Watertown, South Dakota; Jake Larsen (6-3, 270) from Harrisburg, South Dakota and Jontrell Oliver (6-3, 245) from Tampa, Florida.

Nielson landed five offensive linemen in Ryan Bena (6-3, 275) from Omaha Creighton Prep; Cliff Johnson (6-5, 285) from Lake Andes, South Dakota; Joey Lombard (6-5, 305) from Anoka, Minnesota; Tyler Smith (6-5, 270) from Joplin, Missouri and Siler Tschirhart (6-8, 250) from Overland Park, Kansas.

The lone skill position player who signed early is Carter Bell (5-10, 180) from Bettendorf, Iowa. Bell was an all-state quarterback for perennial power Bettendorf, passing for 2,824 yards and rushing for 1,604 while combining for 56 touchdowns. He will make the transition to wide receiver at the collegiate level.

Linebackers Brady Booker (LaSalle, Ill.), and D.J. Gross (McCook, Neb.) and defensive backs Cori Fant Jr. (Tampa, Fla.), Robert Ford III (St. Peters, Mo.) and Tyler Perry (North Port, Fla.) round out the early signing class.

“It really represents where we recruit,” Nielson said. “We recruit in the Midwest and continue to emphasize our recruiting work in Florida as well. It’s good to see all these areas represented in this grouping.”

Having lost just 13 seniors, this signing class wasn’t expected to be too large, but Nielson said there will be more additions during the next signing period in February.

“We’ll definitely add a handful of guys to this recruiting group in February, kind of filling out some of the areas we didn’t address with this signing group,” Nielson said. “But it is going to be a smaller class. We had a small senior class and a small senior class next year as well so we have a big returning group we’re really excited about.”

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