Coyotes kick off 2009 campaign By Jeremy Hoeck
Yankton Media, Inc. It's almost as if football was secondary. The newcomers to the University of South Dakota football program spent Thursday doing what most college freshmen do: Moving into the dorms and getting acclimated to life on campus. Yet, there was also the task of reporting to their first day of practice at the Division I level. Not three weeks before USD opens its second season as a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program, the Coyotes took to the DakotaDome turf Thursday night for the official opening of fall camp. The hour-long practice concluded a hectic day for the newcomers, who had started their day at 11 a.m. moving, filling out paperwork and attending meetings. In short, almost everything but strapping on a helmet. "It's a true orientation day for them," head coach Ed Meierkort said of the reporting day. "It's basically to get the young guys pointed in the right direction. You name it, these guys did it (Thursday). "It's a long grind." With an FCS-limit of 90 players reporting Thursday, USD's first practice — in just helmets and jerseys — consisted of basic group work. Assistant coaches ran through simple instructions, and the players held a handful of non-contact scrimmages. The purpose, senior quarterback Noah Shepard said, was to keep things simple. "We don't want to throw them into the fire right away," said Shepard, entering his third year as USD's starter. "We want them to get into a routine and figure out what's going on. It's really beneficial for them." Shepard recalled that when he was a freshman during the 2005 season, he remembered being "blown away" by the temp of the game, in comparison to his high school days in Colorado. "And now we're a Division I team, it's even faster." The transition from high school to Division II — now D-I — was one senior defensive lineman Ko Quaye said he can relate to. "We're just showing the young pups how to do things here," said Quaye, who was named to The Sports Network preseason FCS All-America third team. "The transition from high school is really tough. The tempo in D-I is a lot faster then they're used to. "When I was a freshman, our scrimmages felt like high school games," he added. "So I know what they're going through." The Coyotes will practice in only helmets for two days, and will jump to full pads on the fifth day of camp. Then, after the fifth practice, they'll advance to two-a-days for alternating days. Still, even the first day of practice brought with it increased excitement, Meierkort said. "Our young guys look fantastic," he said. "We've got some grown men running around here as freshmen. Even just being out there an hour has me even more excited." Injury Update Entering the first day of fall practice, the Coyotes were already dealing with injuries to two key players. Sophomore defensive back Brad McCurry broke his foot while helping a friend move, Meierkort said. McCurry, a Watauga, Tex. native, appeared in nine games for USD last season and was a valuable member of the special teams. He was named the Great West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after recovering two fumbles against Montana State. In addition, senior running back Isaac Newton was injured after being hit by a car while riding his bike. Calling the injury "pretty scary," Meierkort said Newton recently had his cast removed and should be ready to practice in one week. During Thursday night's practice, Newton was on the sidelines riding a stationary bike. A New Orleans, La., native, Newton played in all 11 games last season and rushed for 483 yards and seven touchdowns. New Assistant Coach Joining Meierkort's staff this season is former Marshall University quarterback Tony Petersen. At USD, Petersen will be an assistant head coach and will work with the team's wide receivers. Petersen spent the previous two seasons as quarterbacks coach at Iowa State University. Prior to ISU, Petersen also coached at Minnesota and Marshall. While an assistant at Marshall, Petersen coached future NFL quarterback Chad Pennington. It's that resume that attracted the attention of USD. "He's been all over," Meierkort said. "When you look at where he's been and who he's worked with, it makes perfect sense for us to want to snatch him up." As a player at Marshall, Petersen set 16 Southern Conference single-season and career records in passing and total offense. He also set NCAA records for most passes in a game without an interception (68) and for most regular season games (11) with more than 200 yards passing. Expectations High With 10 starters returning on offense and five on defense, the goal for the 2009 season is understandably high, Meierkort said. "This team should be highly competitive," he said. "Our schedule gets better quickly, but we're excited to get going. "Offensively, we'll be as strong as we've ever been. And that's saying a lot around here," he added. "Defensively, we'll surprise some people. We've got some talented kids on defense." The Coyotes finished with a 6-5 record in 2008, including a 1-2 mark in the Great West Conference. The goal for 2009 is simple, Quaye said, win the league title. "We've all set high goals," Quaye said. "We don't want to having a losing season, and we want to be league champs." Of the 10 games on USD's schedule this season, nine are against Division I opponents. The only exception is the Sept. 3 opener against NAIA William Penn. Included this season are road matchups at Northern Iowa, North Dakota, Montana State, Northern Colorado and Cal Poly. USD will also host Drake, Southeastern Louisiana, UC Davis and Southern Utah. "We know what we're doing at this level now; we know what to expect," Shepard said. "There isn't going to be a down week. We're preparing for Northern Iowa every week; that's the way we look at it."