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Transitioning South Dakota Coyotes set to tackle tough schedule
The University of South Dakota’s 2010 football season certainly had its highs - a victory at the University of Minnesota comes to mind - but, by and large it was a disappointing campaign for the Coyotes of Coach Ed Meierkort.
USD finished with a 4-7 overall record and was just 1-3 in the Great West Conference. One of the toughest schedules in school history contributed to the uncharacteristic mark, but a sub-.500 record isn’t something the folks around here are accustomed to.
But the Coyotes were a young squad last fall, so optimism abounds with the return of 19 starters and 53 letterwinners. USD opened drills last Thursday for its eighth season under Meierkort. “Any time you bring back 19 starters you can hit the ground running,” said Meierkort, 48-30 as a head coach. “We’ve been very productive and are way ahead of schedule. The offenses and defenses are ready to go but we have to move at breakneck speed because we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us in two-and-a-half weeks.
“We’ll have to have enough of our offense and defense in to contend with the likes of Air Force.”
That’s who South Dakota, in its final season of NCAA Division I transitional status, opens the 2011 campaign against on Sept. 3 in Colorado Springs.
Sept. 3 at Air Force 1:00
Sept. 10 Eastern Washington 4:00
Sept. 17 Northwestern Oklahoma St. 4:00
Sept. 24 at Wisconsin TBA
Oct. 1 Lindenwood 4:00
Oct. 8 **Southern Utah 4:00
Oct. 15 at Illinois State 3:00
Oct. 22 **UC Davis 4:00
Oct. 29 **at Cal Poly 8:05
Nov. 12 Missouri S&T Noon
Nov. 19 **at North Dakota 1:00
** Conference Games
It’s also the Coyotes’ last season in the Great West Conference, where they were picked fourth in the preseason coach’s poll. USD will become a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference beginning with the 2012 season.
“We were as close to last as we were first last year,” Meierkort said. “When you only play four conference games there is very little margin for error. The team that wins its road games is usually the one that wins (the conference).”
Another ambitious schedule has the Coyotes playing defending FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) national champion Eastern Washington in their home opener Sept. 10. Then there’s a trip to the University of Wisconsin and famed Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 24.
Rest assured, though, that the Coyotes have ample firepower on both sides of the football.
“When you return a quarterback, your entire receiving corps and backfield, that’s a great way to start,” said Meierkort. “I think our passing game has improved immensely. Where we need to improve is to find a way to finish games against teams with good run defenses.”
Senior Dante Warren returns for his second season as the starting quarterback. The Arlington Heights, Ill., native earned All-Great West second team accolades last season, passing for 2,137 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Chris Ganious, a 188-pound senior from Houston, Texas, has led the team in rushing each of the last three seasons. Ganious rushed for 817 yards and was a first-team all-league selection. Marcus Sims, a 195-pound junior from Brooklyn Park, Minn., will get plenty of reps, as will Michael Burrus, a sophomore from Papillion-LaVista in suburban Omaha.
A deep and talented receiving corps includes junior Will Powell (Sioux Falls O’Gorman) and senior Dustin Nowotny (Rapid City, S.D.), each of whom was an all-conference selection. Anthony Williams, a 6-2, 183-pound transfer from Troy, looked impressive in the spring game and the Coyotes will also try and utilize the speed of senior Jeremy Blount, who doubles as a dangerous return man.
The offensive line, always a USD staple, is anchored by Tom Compton, a 6-foot-6, 311-pound senior entering his fourth season as a starter. The Rosemount, Minn., native was a fourth-team All-America pick by PhilSteele.com last year and has caught the eye of National Football League scouts.
“If our running game is on task, Dante will be better with play action,” said Meierkort. “If we run him early either by design or him just scrambling, that puts a lot of pressure on defenses.”
Senior Jesse Weisbrod (6-5, 275) is expected to be a force at defensive end while senior linebackers Adam Broders and Shea Williams are returning All-Great West players. The 6-2, 220-pound Broders prepped at Bloomfield (Neb.) High School. The defensive line will also be bolstered by the return of Tyler Starr, a 6-5, 236-pound sophomore end from Central Lyon/George-Little Rock who missed last season because of an injury.
The secondary returns intact, led by senior standouts Shane Potter and Marquis Butler. Senior Jim Thompson was a starter at safety before suffering a season-ending injury in last year’s opening game.
Not to be overlooked is the return of junior punter Cole Zwiefelhofer, who averaged 43.2 yards per punt last season, and sophomore placekicker Kevin Robb, who connected on 12 of 16 field goals as a freshman.
“Our kids are ready for the season,” said Meierkort, whose team hosts league foes Southern Utah and UC Davis while playing at Cal Poly and North Dakota. “We’re through this transitional phase. We just have to make sure we keep our head above water the first month of the season.”
By Barry Poe, Sioux City Journal