Optimism high for South Dakota’s Coyote football in 2000

Optimism high for South Dakota's Coyote football in 2000 The University of South Dakota head football coach John Austin has brought a high-energy, hard-nosed and determined approach to Coyote football that has produced positive results in just one short year.

This reinvigorated program, which improved to 4-7 in 1999, is focused on continuing the progress when the season opens Aug. 31 at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, MO.

As South Dakota continues its march back to the top of NCAA Division II football, it does so with a heritage that is indeed rich. South Dakota is one of the 15 most winning programs in NCAA Division II. The Coyotes have had 40 all-Americans along with nine North Central Conference (NCC) titles and three post-season playoff invitations.

"South Dakota's college football tradition is one marked by many outstanding championship teams and players. We know our players have a similar pride to make this one of the nation's best football programs. These players are tough, resilient, smart and committed to be the best they can be. That effort will show results," said Austin.

Reality is such that first-year programs have their share of ups and downs. The Coyotes were no different in 1999. Last year, the Coyotes achieved respectability as the Coyotes went toe-to-toe with NCC teams, arguably one of the toughest NCAA Division II football conferences in the country.

The Coyotes were competitive with every team on the schedule and with a few breaks could have recorded a plus .500 season. But Austin doesn't deal in "what ifs," he believes that hard work, toughness, overcoming adversity, and playing smart has its just rewards. Teams have to see their challenges as opportunities, according to Austin.

With his team a year older and wiser, Austin believes the Coyotes will continue to make progress. He notes that the team has better depth, improved team speed and better athleticism on both offense and defense. And for the second straight year, Austin had a banner-recruiting year with 28 prospects added to the mix.

"I think we have improved our team strength and gradually increased team speed. We have to get more athletic performers on the field," said Austin, noting the Coyotes have hired their first strength and conditioning Coach Brett Chambers, who played at Iowa. "The biggest thing will be our athletes will be more familiar with our system. You need continuity in the foundation (of a program) and the results will speak for itself," said Austin.

South Dakota, which last won a NCC title in 1978 when Austin starred for the Coyotes, will again face a challenging schedule including four of their first six games on the road. After their opener at Missouri Western State, the Coyotes host Truman State of Kirksville, MO, in their home opener on Sept. 9 in the DakotaDome. Then the Coyotes travel to North Dakota (Grand Forks) and North Dakota State (Fargo) before returning home to host Augustana on Sept. 30. The Coyotes go to St. Cloud State University Oct. 7 before hosting Nebraska-Omaha on Dakota Day Oct. 14 and Northern Colorado on Oct. 21 in the Dome. South Dakota travels to Morningside on Oct. 28 and South Dakota State University on Nov. 4 before returning home for the season finale against Minnesota-State at home.

Clearly, the Coyote's biggest challenge is replacing all-American Jamel White, the NCC leader in all-purpose yards last year. He was South Dakota's offense in 1999, setting 11 individual school records including the Coyotes all time rushing mark of 1,807 yards and touchdowns with 24. White, who led the NCC in all-purpose yards with 2,447, signed a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

"I don't know that you can replace someone that breaks 11 school records but we have some talented individuals who will have to step up," said Austin.

This fall Austin will return six starters on offense and nine starters on defense among the returning 30 letterwinners.

Offense

In 1999, the Coyotes revamped their offensive scheme to include multiple formation sets that at times were explosive such as the season-high 43 points against St. Cloud State University, the 38-point outburst against Truman State or the impressive afternoon moving the ball against NCC champ Northern Colorado in a 35-27 loss. But the first year program often suffered from a lack of consistent output and it was a problem that the Coyotes aim to correct this fall.

The Coyotes, who finished fourth in the NCC in rushing offense with 196.5 yards per game, upped their scoring average from 16.5 points per game and 284 total yards in 1998 to 25 points and 372 total yards per game in 1999. The offensive staff realizes the Coyotes also must improve the execution on first and second down plays.

Leading the offense will be quarterback Ryan Justice (6-3, 205) who enjoyed an outstanding freshman year in which he completed 74 of 140 passes (52.9 percent) for 1,060 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.

This fall, the Coyotes will reshape their running game around junior Cary Gantt (6-0, 196, sophomore), who had 26 rushes for 115 yards and 62 yards receiving with a touchdown, and transfer John Weems (5-7, 180), who gained 2,353 yards in his final two seasons in high school before transferring to USD from Pasadena (CA) City College in 1999.

Fullback Michael Weister (5-10, 228), the leading returning rusher with 231 yards, has added 20 pounds to his frame and should again punish tacklers, according to Austin. Weister also exhibited good hands last year with 176 receiving yards and a touchdown. Also expected to play an important role on offense is junior tight end Dustin Sagedahl (6-3, 256).

"We have added more speed to our receiving corps and with our experienced players returning, it gives us an area we are very excited about," said Austin, noting the Coyotes will showcase a two wide receiver formation with one set wide and the second in the slot.

The Coyotes return seniors Jeremiah Charlson (6-0, 192), the leading returning receiver with 27 receptions and 330 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Steve Young (6-2, 187), who caught 17 passes for 127 yards last year. Also, junior Jesse Haines (6-2, 205), an outstanding track performer, didn't play until midway through the season but had a touchdown along with his nine receptions and 105 yards.

The returning group is complimented by four freshmen newcomers with outstanding speed including Charles Johnson (5-10, 160), Rick Eisenlauer (6-3, 199), Aaron Meline (6-2, 189) and Ronnie McDougle (5-10, 160).

The offense returns three starters to the line that allowed the second fewest quarterback sacks (14) in the NCC last year. The Coyotes return senior Nate Irwin (6-3, 282) at right guard, second team all-NCC sophomore Joshua Burr (6-8, 325) at right tackle and senior Miguel Rigalado (6-1, 262).

Competing at the open left guard position are Tom Moore (6-4, 297, freshman), James Terwilliger (6-3, 274, sophomore) and Mitch Hauschildt (6-5, 290, senior) while Neil Ryan (6-4, 290, sophomore) is the leading candidate at left tackle.

Special teams

Austin is optimistic about this aspect of his squad. The Coyotes allowed just 8.9 yards per punt return and only 18 yards per kickoff return. The kicking game is solid, led by junior place-kicker Adam Hicks, who converted 30-33 extra points, and 11-20 field goals for 63 points. His longest field goal was 46 yards.

A battle for the punting job will be held between junior Filip Filipovic (6-2, 207), who averaged 37.7 yards per punt in 1999 with a long of 56 yards, and sophomore Jarrod Edelen (6-0, 215, sophomore).

Defense

Like the offense, the Coyotes, who return nine starters on defense, also must improve their consistency on the defensive side of the ball by improving their ability to stop the big play, and stopping the run while continuing to apply pressure on the passing game, according to Austin.

In a topsy-turvy season that included a shutout, the Coyotes allowed 31.5 points per game and permitted four teams to score over 40 points. South Dakota permitted 168 yards rushing per game and nearly 384 total yards.

On the bright side, the Coyotes were an effective pass-rushing outfit, paced by all-NCC linebacker Josh Stamer, the 6-2, 225 pound senior who had eight sacks among his 62 tackles including 38 unassisted tackles. Stamer, who had 13 stops for losses, led the team with three interceptions, and had two fumble recoveries and four pass breakups.

Senior Scott Larson (6-2, 271) had six sacks, which placed him fifth in the NCC and he was named honorable mention all-NCC.

The defensive end position is led by seniors Lee Bunge (6-5, 278), who had 23 tackles and two quarterback sacks, and Joe Anderson (6-2, 278), who had 34 tackles and three sacks.

Redshirt freshman Shawn Kenworthy (6-3, 232) adds depth. At nose guard, sophomore Bill Gassen (6-0, 282) registered four quarterback sacks. Depth will be supplied through 303-pound junior Wesley Clubb (transfer from Waldorf Community College). At defensive tackle Larson, who had 48 tackles including team high 14 tackles for losses, returns as a starter backed up by transfer Lermautu Faaoga (6-2, 270, junior).

Besides Stamer, returning starters at linebacker include sophomores Korey Ebel (6-3, 231), who had 49 tackles including 22 unassisted, and Ryan Winters (6-2, 239), who had 34 tackles including 11 solo hits. They will be backed up by Scott Gorden (5-11, 215), and Ryan Stoltenberg (6-2, 222).

The secondary is led by second team all-NCC Kasem Gaines who had two interceptions and a fumble recovery to go with 12 pass breakups and four blocked kicks. Gaines (6-1,209) returned an interception and a fumble for a score last year. Russell Burwell (5-10, 170, senior), Rory Triplett (6-0, 198, senior), and senior Wade Mitchell add depth in the defensive backfield.

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