Black Hills State Yellow Jacket Football will begin spring drills on Tuesday April 8th after a productive off-season and momentum from last season’s second consecutive Dakota Athletic Conference Championship and NAIA postseason appearance. Head Coach John Scott and his staff are entering their sixth 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 weight room intensity and work ethics continue to be the foundation of our program. This group not only improved individually this winter, but more importantly they brought out the best in each other”.
The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to begin practice with a 4:00 pm session at the Cliff Papik practice fields with 56 players participating including 37 letter winners from last season. Offensively the Jackets return seven starters having to replace a pair of seniors in all-conference and three-year starter Matt Frankenfield at center and all conference tight end Matt Minter, a two year starter. On the defensive side of the ball the Jackets return seven starters, but must replace a pair of defensive linemen who made a huge presence for the Jackets every Saturday. Two-time all conference nose tackle Rodney Wasche and defensive end Andy Seamann were a consistent force the past two seasons. Four time All DAC and All American Tanner Tetrault will be noticeably absent as the Jackets prepare this spring. Senior linebackers Nate Batteen and Sid Colglazier and defensive back Garland Sanders all provided experience, depth, and maturity which were important down the stretch last season. “This group of senior’s had a great run here – maybe one of the best in the history of the program,” commented Scott.
Quarterbacks - Last fall one of Scott’s biggest concerns was the quarterback position where it was determined a week before fall drills that returning quarterback Erik Osborne was ineligible due one too many semesters. They job was awarded to incoming freshman Drew Hodge who, after a slow start having to learn the system on the run ended up passing for 1,900 yards and 15 touchdowns. This spring in addition to Drew, the Jackets will be working with redshirt Duane Aamot who has demonstrated both a strong arm and running ability this winter. “Both quarterbacks have improved both their knowledge of our schemes and their physical quarterbacking skills”, Scott said.
Running Backs - In the backfield the Jackets have some talent and field experience to work with. Sophomore Tanner Ehrlich who earned all conference honors in rushing for 973 yards returns along with senior running mate James Lemke, who is on track to regain the form that made him our most reliable back two years ago. “Tanner is a special back – his instincts combined with his physical abilities make him a threat every time he touches the ball”, Scott said. Also in the mix at the halfback position are sophomore Ryan Palmer who made a solid impression last fall as a back-up. At the fullback position the Jackets have a solid back in Clint Nicholes who is one of the strongest players on the team. “Clint is expected to gain a load of the carries this spring – he has excellent strength, size, and speed and we need to see if he can be a running threat” Scott said. The depth of the backfield improved as well this winter with the return of fullback Mike Jaeger who returned to BHSU after transferring after his freshmen year. He had a medical year this past fall, but has been given the full go all winter. Semester transfer Willie Padilla, a quick halfback, is regaining the form after two years away from the game that made him an outstanding high school player while at Rock Springs (WY) High School.
Tight Ends - Back-up tight end from the fall, Cliff Bryan returns for his final season having improved his speed, strength, and pass catching abilities this winter. He continues to develop into a consistent blocker and will now expand his talents to the receiving end this spring. Drew Reuman returns after a medical year. He played major role in 2006 as a freshman, but off-season surgery did not allow him to compete last fall, he was given the green light and is 100% this spring. Adding to the tight end depth are sophomore Matt Gottlob and redshirt freshman Trevor Olson. Both have outstanding potential, but need more time to develop consistency in both the run and pass game.
Receivers - The receiving corps is a talented group with plenty of returning experience, but must develop better consistency this spring. Senior Joe Beehler is a multi-dimensional player whether it is on the receiving end or taking a direct snap. “Joe’s year started slow due to an injury in the second week. He returned and filled a number of roles, and we need him to step up big for us this fall”. Corey Wheeler who has pulled in fifty catches and eight touchdowns during his first two years will move to the flanker position and could have a huge year. “Corey is a tall target with exceptional skills and he has the ability to make plays – we need him to stand out”, states Scott. Also returning after gaining game experience last fall are seniors Justin Kloppel an outside receiver who set a position record in the weight room this winter (hang clean), and Josh Redden who plays inside, but can align in all the positions. Newcomer Jamie January transferred to the Jackets this winter from the University of Mary and is expected to be a major contributor in the Jackets offense next fall. “Jamie has one season of eligibility remaining and was in search of a better academic and football fit. He has done everything asked of him and to this point. He set the record for receivers in the bench press during testing and has worked extremely hard at his route and receiving skills in winter drills”, Scott pointed out. Brandon Stoddard joined the squad this winter and will provide spring depth at an outside receiver.
Offensive Line - Up front protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running backs will an experienced and athletic offensive line. “These guys are not only strong and aggressive, they are pretty athletic as well”, Scott said. First team all conference tackle Josh Breske will anchor a line that has been together for three years. Along with Breske juniors Cody Geffre and Jason Boeding (second team all conference) started all eleven 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 will move inside to a more natural guard position from his tackle spot. He continues to add weight, after starting as a light tackle the past two years. Boeding, a relentless worker, returns as the fastest and strongest on the line. He will be doing double duty this spring in both football and track (thrower). Sophomore center Tom Owsiany has had an outstanding winter where he left impressive marks in all his lifts. He will bring a physical style of play to the offensive line this spring. “Coach Long is a technique guy and this group is without a doubt is very sound fundamentally”, Scott emphasized.
Depth wise the line is solid with redshirt sophomore Kale DeMinck, sophomores Colt Stephens and Nick Petersen getting valuable playing time last fall. “Kale, Colt, and Nick have true linemen bodies – their size is more of what we are looking for in the offensive line – we expect one of them to step up and take over the right tackle position.” Scott said. Red shirt Robbie Muller will also get plenty of reps this spring to gain field experience and provide depth this fall.
Defense - Defensively the Jackets find themselves in a similar position as the offense with some key returning starters from a defense that ranked number one in both scoring and total defense in the conference last fall. Scott points out that the experience lost were key players the positions might be a little more difficult to fill right away. The Jackets lost a pair of linemen, linebackers, and secondary to graduation. “You don’t gain that kind of experience back in one spring, but at the same time the talent is there and these kids play well together”, commented Scott.
Defensive Line - Up front the defense line has the talent to play at the level the defense is accustomed to. Led by junior first team all conference selection Wacey Coleman, who led the team in sacks and tackles for loss, and seniors Kyle King, Talon Tucker and Justin Thorpe the Jackets have playmakers. The depth will only improve with the addition of a couple kids who saw action in a number of games last season. “Offensive lines will have to know where Wacey is on every play. We anticipate teams doubling him more this year which means that someone else will have an opportunity”, Scott pointed out. Thorpe, who was slowed last season by nagging injuries, and Tucker make up an active front who should continue the trend of creating chaos in opposing team’s backfields this fall. Nose tackle Kyle King will get his shot as a full-time starter this spring while sophomore’s ends Clay Smith and John Speicher along with senior nose tackle Jonathan Crosswait are also capable of making big contributions. Red shirt freshman Mike Badovinatz has had a good winter adding weight and strength and will get some spring looks at end as well.
Linebackers - The line backing corps can be described as in past years - athletic, and quick. Combining that with a physical style of play should keep the defense near the top of the conference. Scott said, “We blitz guys from all over the place and not only do we need tough guys, but they have to be field smart as well”. The linebackers won’t all be new though as it is not uncommon for the defense to travel with ten linebackers who play each week. Strong side linebacker Tyler Tetrault had a stellar season earning all conference honors and is expected to lead the defense. Opposite Tetrault on the outside is junior Sean Sweet who creates backfield chaos coming off the weak side edge. Sophomore Tom Tripp gained valuable experience both as a linebacker and special team’s player. Semester transfer Nick Prather has demonstrated an aggressive style and will figure into the mix along with red shirts Lane Varner and Sam Campfield.
The inside line backing corps have outstanding instincts and will be key components in stopping the opponents run this fall. Senior Josh Fundis, junior Forest Sainsbury, and sophomore Richard Fairhead are very solid. Sainsbury continues to improve on his pass coverage, stopping the run is no problem for the former Harding County Rancher. Fairhead came to camp as a walk-on and earned a starting position mid-way through his first season. Fundis is a throwback guy who improved his physical skills this winter and is focused to play fulltime. Sophomore winter transfer Chris Opitz (Rapid City Stevens) has shown excellent strength and speed this winter and will be a solid addition to the inside position along with red shirt freshman Michael Kreitman who is one of the biggest inside linebackers. Scott stated, “The talent is there we have to develop the confidence between them so we play as a unit. Linebacker coach Ryan Gatch joined us last summer after spring drills and he was still learning the system for most of the fall – our backers are much farther along now and when they adapt to his style that will be one revved up unit”.
Defensive Backs - The defensive secondary lost four time all conference, 2006 Player of the Year, and All-American performer Tanner Tetrault along with a dependable and versatile safety in Garland Sanders. One could think that things look bleak, but outstanding depth at the corner position and a couple safeties’s waiting to make their mark things could work out just fine for the defensive backfield. At corner senior Tony Dill returns for his final season after garnering all conference honors in the fall. Dill is a three year starter who led the team in interceptions including three in one game that earned him conference player of the week honors. Joining Dill at the corner positions are juniors Darrell Neiman and Dwayne Brown. Both Brown and Neiman have started on different occasions and played in all eleven games. According to Scott they play are physical run stoppers and excellent pass defenders as well. Red shirt freshman Tyler Robinson (Rapid City Central) continues to impress the coaches with his effort both on the field and in the weight room. “We are fortunate to have such good depth at the corner, it is possible that one of these guys may move to safety depending how things progress this spring”, Scott said.
At the safety position senior Dustin Dooley and junior Clayton Schleusner logged quality minutes last fall. Their physical qualities are a fit for what the Jackets expect from the position, the key element for both of them is to develop consistency and self-confidence. Trevor Lightfield joined the squad during winter drills and will use the spring and fall to gain experience. As Scott points out, “There is plenty of talent at the safety position; we will need to develop more depth here in the fall with the expected incoming recruits”. 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. “Coach Fackrell does a great job adapting the scheme to the talent – by fall we will have a system that allows each player to play to his strength”.
Special Teams - Special teams will also get plenty of attention this spring. With the departure of last season’s punter the job is up for grabs this spring. Tanner Ehrlich was a back-up in the fall and will get time to perfect his technique. The Jackets also made sure to bring in a punter for the fall. Kicking duties will be handled by returning sophomore Micah Nielsen. He handled PAT’s and field goals in the fall and has developed his leg this winter to handle the kickoff duties. Red shirt Casey Kaubisch (Sturgis Brown) will also get plenty of reps in the kicking game. Punt returns will see a new face this fall after the graduation of last season’s return specialist Garland Sanders. Scott knows the importance of the position, “We need to find the fearless kid who wants to score every time he touches the ball. We have a couple kids who have already volunteered – that is a good sign” Scott said.
“This spring won’t differ a whole lot from our previous ones. We will start from square one and our emphasis will be on fundamentals and teaching. Our goals are to work our base schemes, make some scheme adjustments, and evaluate our personnel. We will conclude spring drills with a sixty play scrimmage on Saturday April 26th. We have to remember that these ten practices are just part of making ourselves and each other a little better”, Scott concluded. The Jackets open the season on the road at NCAA Division II Southwest State Minnesota on September 6th. On Saturday September 13th Jackets will entertain NAIA Nationally ranked Northwestern Oklahoma in their home opener at Lyle Hare Stadium.