Yellow Jackets to Begin Spring Drills –
Black Hills State Yellow Jacket Football will begin spring drills on Tuesday April 10th with a great deal of optimism carrying over from last seasons Dakota Athletic Conference Championship, a first ever NAIA Playoff birth, and an productive off-season in the weight room. Head Coach John Scott and his staff are entering their fifth season and are looking to build on a solid core of returning players on both sides of the ball. Scott commented, “We couldn’t be more pleased with our off-season workouts, the players intensity in their workouts continue to make us a stronger, more confident team. Our morning conditioning yielded some outstanding testing results as well; overall we are a much faster team”.
The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to begin practice with a 4:00 pm session on the campus apartments practice fields with 60 players participating including 36 letter winners from last season. Offensively the Jackets return eight starters having to replace offensive guard Matt Ullrich, All-DAC receiver Kyle Gerik, and running back Clayton Bryan. On the defensive side of the ball the Jackets return seven starters, but must replace a trio of linebackers who started nearly every game in their four year careers and a four-year starter at cornerback. First team All-DAC linebacker Shad Schneider, inside backers Andy Coyle, and Travis Peetz will leave some big shoes to fill. Seven time all conference performers (cornerback & return specialist) Craig Tschetter will also be difficult to replace. “The game experience and savvy that these kids had doesn’t get replaced in one spring”, commented Scott. The Jackets must also replace an outstanding kicker in Rocky Stevens, four-year punter Andy Christy, and return specialist Tschetter. “Our special teams play has improved every year, large part in due to these three guys” Scott said.
“We have reason to be optimistic because we do have young men who believe in the program are very driven. Our staff has stayed together and that is a big plus. We have some qualities players returning and like everyone else some unanswered questions. Overall our team depth continues to improve and the competition for positions will hopefully yield the consistent play we will need to make another run at the conference title”, Scott added.
Last spring one of Scott’s biggest concerns was the quarterback position where inconsistency was plaguing the offense. With All DAC quarterback Eric Osborne returning and talented red shirt Dillon Sanders ready to see his first action the offense should continue to improve. Osborne, after a slow start last fall, ended up passing for 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. “Both quarterbacks have improved their arm strength this winter and have an excellent grasp of the offense”, Scott said.
Skill wise the Jackets have some talent and field experience to work with. Junior James Lemke will be back after an injury plagued season a year ago. “James is 100%, and we expect him to regain his form that made him our most reliable back two years ago. We need his durability and toughness”, Scott states. Also in the mix at the halfback position are Grant Stewart and Ryan Palmer who both made solid impressions during their red shirt year. At the fullback position the Jackets have a pair of solid backs who gained valuable experience their freshman season stepping up after senior Mike Vomhof’s week four season ending injury. Clint Nicholes and Josh Smith shared duties and will now be counted on to carry more of a load this fall. Nicholes is a throwback fullback who has excellent strength, size, and speed. His confidence will continue to improve with reps this spring. Smith will have a dual roll at both backfield positions where he can come out of the backfield on pass routes and line up behind Nicholes for a big back look.
If there is a question on the offense entering spring it is the tight end position. Matt Minter returns for his final season having improved his speed and pass catching abilities this winter. He was one of the most consistent blockers a year ago and will now expand his talents to the receiving end this spring. Injuries and inexperience are the concern with finding a second tight end this spring. Drew Reuman played a major role last fall as a freshman, but off-season surgery will not allow him to compete this spring and his status for the fall is questionable. Cliff Bryan, a junior got some late season playing time in the fall and red shirt Matt Gottlob is still making the transition to the position. Both have outstanding potential but need more time to develop consistency and they have to remain healthy to get spring reps.
The receiving corps is a young talented group who made their marks in the fall and will be expected to continue to develop throughout the spring and fall. Junior Joe Beehler is a multi-dimensional player whether it is on the receiving end or taking handoffs. He had 35 catches in the fall and accounted for over 500 yards in total offense. “Joe has great durability to go with his speed and we have to continue to be creative to find ways to get him the ball”, Scott commented. A freshman who made a big contribution last season is Corey Wheeler who hauled in 26 receptions and four touchdowns in big games. A tall target with exceptional skills Wheeler will draw the attention of every defense he faces this fall. “Corey came in under the radar with teams focusing on All-DAC receiver Kyle Gerik much of the year. He had a lot of one-on-one coverage on the backside and he made them pay for it. He very well could get doubled this fall, but like Gerik he has the abilities to still make the plays”, Scott points out. Ryan Fagerstrom, another freshman will be counted on to contribute and had a couple games last fall where he showed what he is capable of. Scott said, “Ryan might have the best hands on the team and he does a nice job blocking downfield. His speed has improved and developing consistency throughout will really allow us to spread the field”. Also returning after gaining game experience last fall is outside receiver Justin Kloppel who is making the transition from a mid-season move from the tight end position, and inside receiver Josh Redden. Josh Madry who is coming off a red shirt season, JJ Elm who transferred from Montana State Northern in January, and winter newcomer Tyler Fenner look to provide solid depth at both the inside and outside receiving positions.
Up front protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running backs will be a much bigger, stronger, and semi-experienced line than in previous seasons. “Coach Long has done a great job bringing this group along. These guys are not only strong and aggressive, they are pretty athletic as well”, Scott said. All DAC center Matt Frankenfield returns for his third season as a starter where he anchors the line from his center position. Scott knows what he wants from this position, “Frank is one of our strongest players with a 600 pound squat, but what stands out is he ran a 4.9 forty this spring at 270 pounds. With what we have returning it still starts with the line and it has to go through Matt, we are going to expect a lot from him”. Also returning up front are sophomores Josh Breske, Cody Geffre, and Jason Bodine who all started the final eight games last season. Breske gives the Jackets that big presence at tackle where his 6’5 frame and good feet gives the quarterback excellent protection. Geffre was a true freshman last fall playing tackle in a guard’s body. He has added weight this winter and will play both positions this spring. Bodine, a relentless worker, had the fastest forty on the line running a 4.85 and will be doing double duty this spring in both football and track (thrower). “Offensively we had eight new starters last fall, including a line with three freshmen starting for the most part. This group got better every game, thus we as a unit got better. We are still young for the most part, but these guys are workers”, Scott commented. Senior Ryan Richey is healthy after an injury early last fall limited him throughout the year and will be counted on heavily this spring to regain his form and provide leadership. Red shirts John Potter, Willie Richter, Travis Haines, and Kale Deminck, who moved over from the defensive line this winter are going to get plenty of reps this spring to gain field experience and provide depth this fall.
Defensively the Jackets find themselves in a similar position as the offense with eight returning starters from a defense that ranked among the best in the conference. But the losses were key and might be a little more difficult to fill right away. The Jackets lost three linebackers and one defensive back to graduation, but the significance is that each of the starters had played from day one of their careers amassing nearly forty starts each. “You don’t gain that kind of experience back in one spring”, commented Scott.
Up front the defense will be solid with the entire group returning and the depth will only improve with the addition of a couple kids who red shirted last season. The line will be anchored around All-DAC nose guard Rodney Wasche who spent most of his time in the opponent’s backfield where he garnered seven sacks and eighteen tackles for loss. “Offensive lines will have to account for him on every play. We anticipate teams doubling him more this year which will create opportunities for his teammates”, Scott pointed out. Senior Andy Seamann, Juniors Justin Thorpe, who earned conference defensive player of the week, honors last fall, and Talon Tucker make up an active front who should continue the trend of creating chaos in opposing team’s backfields this fall. Depth this spring will come from red shirt freshmen Clay Smith and Wacey Coleman who is expected to bring a presence with his physical demeanor. Kyle King, a junior college transfer this winter will also bring maturity and experience to this group.
The line backing corps can be described as athletic, fast, strong, and with having a nose for the ball. But the big concern for Scott and defensive coordinator Pat Fackrell is the actual field experience needed to run the aggressive style of defense the Jackets employ. “We bring guys from all over the place and at times it does look pretty chaotic, but there is a disciplined system and if one guy blows a scheme then we become very vulnerable to opposing offenses. I can’t begin to describe the field savvy we lost in Schnieder, Peetz, and Coyle – they grew up in the system and it showed this past season”. Scott stated. The linebackers won’t all be new – senior Nathan Batteen returns for his third season and has all the tools to earn post season honors. Tyler Tetrault had a solid season with seven sacks and two interceptions, but will be limited this spring due to off-season surgery. Likewise outside backer Sean Sweet saw his first action last fall and will have the opportunity to develop consistency to be a full-time player this fall. Brandin Santi, moves inside to the middle position where he is expected to play downhill with a physical style. Sid Colglazier had plenty of field experience, but from the safety position. This spring he is making the move to linebacker where it is a better fit for his aggressive style of play. Sophomore Forest Sainsbury has had a solid winter and continues to improve in all phases of the game. Last year Sainsbury was selected special teams player of the week a number of times. Letter winners Cole Richter and Trey Cannon, who is moving to line backer from defensive end will, are expected to provide depth and contribute on special teams. Red shirts Westin Scanlin and Tom Tripp are expected to make contributions this spring. Scanlin is a big inside force that has great strength and Tripp has outstanding football smarts to go along with his athletic abilities. Junior college transfer Josh Fundis brings a hard-nosed style of play to the Jackets. Scott expects the backers to be in form by the time conference play begins, “We have the talent and leadership potential as well, and we have to develop the confidence between them so we play as a unit. Technique and fundamentals will be emphasized from day one, without them our talents mean nothing”.
The defensive backfield returns DAC Player of the Year and All-American performer Tanner Tetrault. “It doesn’t get much better than that with Tanner overseeing the entire defense from his safety position. Tanner brings so much to the defense with his pass defending talents and the ability to come up and stop the run. He is such a down to earth kid, he genuinely knows that all his awards wouldn’t have been possible without this teammates”, Scott states. This spring the competition lies at the corner position where it is a wide-open race. With the graduation of four-year starter Craig Tschetter will provide an opportunity for a couple of players to make their mark. “Filling Craig’s shoes will not be easy, his confidence and spirit for the game were contagious for the entire defense”, Scott said. Promising sophomore Darrell Neiman played in all ten games last fall and has the physical attributes to be an outstanding corner. Junior Tony Dill returns at the opposite corner and has improved every year, Scott expects post season honors to come his way. Dwayne Brown who played as a freshman, but red shirted last season will figure into the rotation this spring along with sophomore Blaine Braake. At the safety position Senior Garland Sanders returns and played a major role in the Jackets two-safety, and nickel coverage’s. Junior Dustin Dooley played quality minutes last season and if he remains healthy could provide much needed depth. Red shirts Clayton Schleusner, Nick Erickson, and Ryan Kelly will get time to develop and gain experience on special teams. Scott said, “There is plenty of talent in this group, we will probably have more depth here with the expected recruits than any other position on the team”.
Special teams will also get attention this spring. With the graduation of four year punter Andy Christy, kicker Rocky Stevens, and return specialist Craig Tschetter the special teams have some holes to fill. January transfer Craig Tafoya will have the opportunity to get a head start on the kicking duties. Tafoya has a strong leg and is athletic enough in Special Teams Coordinators Jon Vance’s eyes to handle both the punting and kicking duties this spring. “Craig kicked for us a couple times in December and we were impressed with his kicking abilities, so we offered him a scholarship to get a head start this spring. We are bringing in some additional kickers as well to compete and provided depth”, Scott stated. The kickoff and punt returns will see a new face this fall. Scott knows the importance of the position, “Tschetter had been handling both duties the past three seasons and we will need one or more to step up and bring the fearlessness to the returns that Craig did”.
Scott concluded, “This spring won’t differ a whole lot from last spring. We will start from square one and our emphasis will still be on fundamentals and teaching. Our goal is to avoid injury and conclude the drills with a 45-60 play scrimmage on April 28th so we can evaluate some concern areas. On both sides of the ball we will spend most of our time on our base schemes. We have to remember that we don’t play until September 1st and these ten practices are just part of making ourselves and each other a little better”. The Jackets open the season on the road at Carroll College on September 1st.