VERMILLION, SD — The South Dakota Coyote football program kicked off last week and hasn’t been afraid to push through a week in fall camp.
The reason? A glove to start the 2022 season.
The USD opens its season against a Power Five Conference opponent FBS at Kansas State on September 3 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. This is only the first test.
After the season opener, the Coyotes will travel to Missoula, Montana, where they will face the third-ranked team in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25, Montana.
“If there’s one thing that makes this season really difficult, it’s that we have three of these games on the road,” said USD head coach Bob Nielson. “We start with two games on the road and in two very tough places to play in Manhattan, Kansas and Missoula, Montana. And so, not only do you have to play well, but you have to play well on the road.
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To begin conference play two weeks later, the Coyotes host the defending national champion, North Dakota State’s No. 1 at the DakotaDome. After a bye week, USD then heads to rival South Dakota State, ranked second in the Top 25 FCS.
“Then we go into the conference schedule and open with North Dakota State and South Dakota State,” Nielson said. That week off between those two games will be good, but at the same time, you know you’re going to have to play your best football at the start of the year. So that first week at training camp was a really physical week.
With Cal Poly sandwiched between Montana and North Dakota State, the Coyotes face the top three FCS teams and a strong FBS opponent in four of their first five games. For a team that just played its first home playoff game in over 30 years, the Coyotes have a challenge ahead.
“That’s kind of step number one, you make the playoffs, your guys understand what it takes to get there, and also the level of play it will take to keep winning once you get there. will be,” Nielson said. “And our guys think hey, it’s not just about making the playoffs, it’s about making the playoffs and being able to make a run in the playoffs, and that’s the goal they have as a football team.”
The Coyotes will rely on a plethora of returning talent to guide them, including starting quarterback Carson Camp on offense and veteran inside linebacker Brock Mogensen on defense.
Camp has four of his five offensive linemen from last season and has recovered the majority of his weapons. All-preseason conference left tackle Alex Jensen said the offensive line is closing in nicely despite some positional changes and filling holes left by starts.
“As a group, we’ve really pushed ourselves over the past spring and the offseason,” Jensen said. “We also have younger guys who are also competing for it. A lot of places are on hold right now and everyone is just doing their part to keep having good competition within the group to keep pushing us forward.
One position group that will benefit from a consistent offensive line is the running backs room. After being injured in the Missouri State game a season ago, Shomari Lawrence is back healthy and ready to compete, but the Coyotes lost running back Nate Thomas to the injury. to the knee in the spring.
Travis Theis has been one of the frontrunners in the group, but Lawrence and Mike Mansaray will also play valuable shots for a system that has always made multiple guys work.
“I’ve worked with these guys for over two years now and they have a great work ethic and they always bring their best game,” Theis said. “And like I always say, the running back room is great here, it’s always a great competition and we’re excited.”
Defensively, the departure of inside linebacker Jack Cochrane, who is currently in training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent, will hurt. Cochrane led the team in tackles as a senior last season, but Mogensen has held that position and is working to fill Jack’s shoes.
“The main thing is to be a more vocal leader,” Mogensen said. “Jack was a great vocal leader, but doing that and knowing all the defense in and out. I need to know what the D line is doing, what we’re doing behind it. So I think I need to take action in that aspect, just know what people are doing and be able to communicate with everyone, but it’s been fun so far.
The special teams group is also undergoing changes, but a revenant will be essential to keep things together. American long snapper Dalton Godfrey is the first specialist to be named captain of a Nielson-led program in his 30 years of training (seventh at USD).
Godfrey worked with the kickers and punters while the coaching staff settled the positional battle at both places. Mason Lorber and Brady Schutt were the kicker and punter last season and had held those positions for the majority of their time on campus, but now Godfrey will have to adjust to a new punter and starter.
“What I’m trying to do is try to show them a few things that worked for Brady that they might want to adopt, a few things that worked for Lorber that they might want to adopt, but at the same time, they have to keep doing the things that brought them here,” Godfrey said. “They’re good enough to get here, they’re good enough players to play.”
Nielson also mentioned the difficulty of replacing guys like Schutt and Lorber, but there are plenty of good options on the roster according to Nielson.
“We feel good with the guys we have,” Nielson said. “We will end up making decisions here, because we come a little later in the pre-season, and it will be the guys who will enter the field this first game for us in these positions. But, I think we’ve got enough talent and having a quality leader and a long snapper like Dalton where all those operations, whether it’s a field goal or a punt, start is a great place to build.
The Coyotes plan to sort out their starters in any positional battle over the next week or two before the Sept. 3 date in Manhattan, Kansas.