Coyotes optimistic as football season nears

Coyotes optimistic as football season nears 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, 200 all-NCC performers, nine North Central Conference (NCC) titles and six 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 they 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 result will speak for itself."

South Dakota, which last won an 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' 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 or tying 14 individual school records, including the Coyotes all time rushing mark of 1,796 yards and touchdowns with 24. White, who led the NCC in all-purpose yards with 2,403, signed a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

"I don't know that you can replace someone that breaks all those 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 letter winners. In the mix is three second-team all-NCC performers and all-American candidates tackle sophomore Josh Burr, senior linebacker Josh Stamer and defensive back Kaseem Gaines.

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