SIOUX CITY – Anybody who has attended a University of South Dakota football game is familiar with the team’s ritual of running onto the field behind a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
So, it’s only fitting that Rooster’s Harley-Davidson -- owned and operated by USD alum John Roost – hosted a gathering of Coyote faithful on Saturday.
For the past 16 years, a loud and powerful bike transported up Interstate 29 each Saturday from Rooster’s, has led the Coyotes onto the DakotaDome field before every home game.
“Nobody has crashed yet,” mused Roost before USD athletic director David Herbster took the microphone to talk all things Coyotes. “Well, in public, let’s put it that way,” Herbster shot back.
Herbster and South Dakota football coach Bob Nielson each took their turns addressing the group of fans decked out in Coyote Red. Herbster provided an update on the ongoing renovation of the DakotaDome and spoke highly of the football program’s direction under Nielson.
“There’s a lot of optimism and I think it’s certainly centered around and created by coach Nielson and his staff,” Herbster said. “They’ve done an excellent job in a short amount of time turning around the football program. As you’re trying to turn a football program around it’s an awful lot like trying to turn around an aircraft carrier. One person doesn’t do it, it takes everybody pulling together to make that happen and we’re certainly on the right path.
“As an athletic director you always look at your coaches and squads and try to determine the character of the team. As I look at this group and team it’s a team that mirrors the coach, they play hard and with integrity and class.”
The first phase of the DakotaDome project is under way, the construction of an artificial turf practice field just north of the dome. That, Herbster said, must be completed before beginning work inside.
“After the first of the year we will actually start the progress of the renovation of the dome and that is really finishing the dome,” Herbster said. “It was meant and originally designed to have permanent seating and entrances on the west side, so we’re really kind of finishing what we started 40 years ago.”
That process, he said, will take close to a year to complete, but when it is finished there will be close to 4,500 seats on the west side, as well as locker rooms, training and equipment rooms and also premium seating spaces.
The Coyotes went from 4-7 in Nielson’s first season to eight wins, which was a school record at the Division I level, and a first-ever FCS playoff berth last season. With a host of starters returning on both sides of the football, Nielson likes the looks of this year’s squad.
“We’re at the mid-point of camp, we’ve been in camp two weeks and we have two weeks prior to the first game (at Kansas State),” Nielson said. “We’ve gotten a lot accomplished and this week is going to be a very important week as we transition from just working on the things we have to do to actually starting to prepare for an outstanding opponent like Kansas State.
“That first game can’t come soon enough, but at the same time we’ve got a lot of work to do and our guys understand that. We have to use every day this week to get better and that’s the kind of focus our players will have.”
Sioux City, Herbster said, is a key component to the athletic program’s success.
“From a standpoint of what our reach is, it starts in Sioux City, goes up to Sioux Falls and kind of connects in Yankton,” Herbster said. “So it’s an area that we’re continually looking at trying to develop and build relationships. We have quite a few alumni in this area, too, and for those fans that are of age that remember when we were in the North Central Conference and in Sioux City all the time against Morningside, because of that we’re still looking for ways to get back into Sioux City.”