The University of South Dakota football team completed its first fully-padded practice Monday afternoon on the grass fields east of the DakotaDome. Eighth-year head coach Ed Meierkort and the Coyotes have completed five practices since reporting last Thursday.
�Our personnel is so much more experienced this year and we are able to advance our skill more than usual at this time in camp,� Meierkort said.
Meierkort specifically talked about the receiving corps and how they have performed thus far. �Our receiving core with Will Powell and Dustin Nowotny are as good as we will find this year.�
Powell is coming off of a breakout season as a sophomore. The junior from Sioux Falls earned second team all-Great West Conference honors last year as he started 10 games and led the Coyotes in receptions (47), receiving yards (933) and receiving touchdowns (10). He averaged 19.9 yards per catch and 84.8 yards per game and tallied 156 yards and two touchdowns in the Coyotes� thrilling 41-38 win at Minnesota last season.
Nowotny, a senior from Rapid City started all 11 games last season and was second on the team in receptions with 34. He tallied 489 yards and one score averaging 14.4 yards per catch and 44.5 yards per game. Nowotny tallied a career-best eight catches at Southern Utah a season ago.
Meierkort went on to talk about the offensive line and the improvement it has made on a day-to-day basis. The offensive line is anchored by senior All-America selection in Tom Compton. The Rosemont, MN, native earned Philsteele.com fourth team all-America honors last year and is a preseason first team all-America selection by Steele. Compton earned first team all-conference honors last year starting all 11 games at left tackle.
The ground game, led by senior Chris Ganious, also has looked strong thus far. Ganious is coming off of a stellar junior campaign as he was a first team all-conference selection leading the Coyotes with 817 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Houston, TX, native averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 74.3 yards per game.
Senior quarterback Dante Warren returns for his second year behind center. The Arlington Heights, IL, native earned second team all-conference honors as a junior and threw for 2,137 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also rushed for 393 yards and six scores on 96 attempts.
Meierkort feels the defense is another strong point to the team, �Our defense is athletic and we run well. Our ability to rush the passer and our pressure on the outside with Tyler Starr has made a difference so far.�
Starr, a sophomore native of Little Rock, IA, redshirted his first season and was the Defensive Scout Player of the Week twice last season.
The Coyote defense returns 10 of 11 starters from a year ago anchored by senior linebackers Shea Williams and Adam Broders, along with senior defensive back Shane Potter.
Broaders, a native of Bloomfield, NE, was a first team all-conference selection as a junior finishing third on the team with 75 tackles, including 30 solo stops. He tallied a career-high 15 tackles against Northern Iowa and notched a team-high 6.5 tackles for loss.
Becker, MN, native Potter was a second team all-conference selection last year and was second on the team with 76 tackles. He had 41 solo tackles on the year and recorded a career-high 16 stops at Central Florida.
Williams, an Alexandria native, also was a second team all-conference selection leading the team with 89 tackles and 37 solo stops. He also posted a team-high 6.5 tackles for loss and led the team with three sacks.
Meierkort also commented on the special teams combination of sophomore kicker Kevin Robb and junior punter Cole Zwiefelhofer. Robb is coming off of a second team all-conference selection as a true freshman. He went 12 of 16 in field goals and 29 of 32 in extra-points. The Rapid City native made a season-long 49-yard field goal at Southern Utah.
Zwiefelhofer, a native of Chippewa Falls, WI, earned PhilSteele.com second team All-America honors as a sophomore as he was named the GWC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2010. His 43.2 punt average ranked him fourth nationally and he placed 18 kicks inside the 20-yard line. He had two 60-yard punts and set the school single-game record for average yards per punt at a 53.7 clip at Minnesota.
The Coyotes were one of 44 teams who were among the other receiving votes in the preseason Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 poll released Monday. South Dakota faces three teams this season who were named in either the Top 25 or who were receiving votes. Southern Utah and UC Davis both were receiving votes, while the Coyotes open the 2011 home slate Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. in the DakotaDome versus No. 1 and defending national champion Eastern Washington University. South Dakota hosts Southern Utah Oct. 8 on Dakota Days and host UC Davis Oct. 22. Both games are scheduled for 4 p.m.
Meierkort and the Coyotes begin two-a-days Tuesday with the first practice scheduled for 9:30 a.m. and the second scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The first scrimmage is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the east fields (weather pending) following Football Media Day in the Muenster University Center (MUC) at 12 p.m.