Playoffs priority for South Dakota's team USD head football coach Ed Meierkort speaks with members of the media at a news conference Aug. 11 in the Neuharth Media Center. by David Lias What a difference a year makes.
USD head football coach Ed Meierkort admits he was roaming in unknown territory at the start of last year�s USD Coyote gridiron season.
�At this time last year, we really didn�t know what we had on the squad because a) we were just getting to know the players, b) we were just getting to know each other staff-wise, and c) I had never played a game in this league before.
�I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident in not only our team�s abilities and our staff�s abilities, but in being able to identify who the enemy is,� Meierkort told members of the media at a press conference last Thursday.
The Coyotes went 9-2 last year, posting their best record since 2000.
That stellar record, however, wasn�t good enough to get the team into the playoffs. This year, everyone associated with the football program is hoping for a different outcome, and they are working hard to make a shot at the conference championship a reality.
�Being 9-2 last year was a lot of fun; obviously we want to emulate that,� Meierkort said. �There are going to be a lot of teams in our way this year. Our schedule is going to be a little bit tougher than it was last year.�
Eighteen starters and 54 letter winners are returning to the Coyote roster. There are nine returning starters on defense, eight on offense, and USD�s punter is also a veteran.
�Anytime you have a good football team, you hang your hat on the offensive line,� Meierkort said. �We feel our offensive line is as good as any team in the country. They are big, they�re physical, they run well and more importantly, they play hard all the time.�
Junior running back Stefan Logan returns after becoming USD�s first player to run for back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. The first-team all-North Central Conference runner also enters this season with six consecutive 100-yard games.
Spelling the two-time first team all-NCC back is junior Travis Mlady. The �thunder� back of the duo ran for 726 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
�I think our running game is going to be very formidable again,� Meierkort said.
Coyote players to watch
USD will once again be pinning its hopes on the performance of some key members of the football squad:
? Wesley Beschorner, senior quarterback, completed 130 of 221 passes for 1,767 yards and a school record 17 touchdowns, while rushing for 359 yards and 10 scores in 2004.
? The Coyote offensive line, including linemen Brian Alderson, Nate Carruthers, Nick Hagemann and Nick Bliek.
? Stefan Logan, junior running back, is the first player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Currently he has 2,500 yards rushing.
? A.J. Schable, senior defensive tackle, who recorded 40 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for losses of 37 yards and four quarterback sacks.
? Ryan Hedden, junior linebacker, who led USD with 58 tackles, including five for loss and four quarterback sacks last season.
? Chris Reid, junior defensive back, who led USD in interceptions with five and was fourth on the team in tackles with 45.
�We have the second-ranked defense in this league,� Meierkort said. �Obviously these guys play hard for coach (Mike) Freidel. Coach Freidel is a South Dakota legend and rightfully so. He does a great job with the defense; his kids play to the point of fanatical frenzy for him and what we�re going to try to do this year is turn up the heat even a little bit more and get a little bit better of a pressure game.�
Meierkort knows that no coach can make guarantees, especially during pre-season, when one�s hopes don�t always match with reality.
He hopes, however, that his football squad will be serious playoff contenders this year.
�We�re going to be competitive, we�re going to play fast, we�re going to play hard, and at the end of the year, we�re going to be there,� he said. �I�m not going to tell you we�re going to win it (the conference title) but we�re going to have something to say about it.�