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Area Players Learning The D-I Ropes at South Dakota
Standing on the sideline, Ethan Pace looks, by pure physical build, like he belongs on a Division I football field.
And even when the Elk Point native gets on the practice field and makes plays that get the attention of coaches, he still looks the part.
The 6-foot-5, 243-pound Pace is one of three former area standouts who are performing well for the University of South Dakota football team, which is halfway through its fall camp.
Though he will likely redshirt the 2011 season, Pace has been seeing significant action with the defensive units during camp.
“It’s a big change from high school, that’s for sure,” he said with a grin, following Saturday’s second practice in Vermillion. “But so far I really like it. It’s nice to strap down and hit some people again.”
Pace was originally recruited by the Coyotes as a tight end, but the coaching staff decided to move him to the defensive end position — a more natural fit for his aggressiveness.
“We moved him to the end because I think his personality matches that spot better,” head coach Ed Meierkort said Saturday. “He’s a hard-looking individual. He doesn’t know anything, doesn’t say anything, but he plays hard.”
Pace essentially swapped positions with redshirt freshman Chase Irvin-Salazar, who was moved from lineman to tight end midway through fall camp.
“When they first said tight end, I was pretty shocked; I didn’t know how that would go,” said Pace, a former two-time first team All-State defensive lineman at EPJ. “But now I’m just anxious to get better on the end.”
Like Pace, Earv Archambeau (Avon) and Austin Koch (Bon Homme) are also area natives who are having strong camps, though they both figure to see action in 2011.
Archambeau, a sophomore running back, played in three games last season after redshirting in 2009. The 5-foot-10, 197-pound speedster has seen a bulk of the action as the No. 3 running back in fall camp.
“He’s a kid who’ll be on some special teams, and we’re not afraid to put him in a game,” Meierkort. “Whether he’s our third back or fourth back, it remains to be seen. Right now, he’s probably our third. But we really like Earv.”
Like Archambeau, Koch enters his third season with the Coyote program but is listed as a sophomore after redshirting the 2009 season.
Koch, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound wide receiver, played in four games last season as a reserve. Though so far in fall camp, Koch has “looked great,” Meierkort said, and could see significant time as an option to an already-loaded receiving corp.
On a team that features 23 seniors and 19 returning starters, all three players will have their opportunity in the future to make more direct contributions, if they don’t in 2010. Though as Pace said, the experience gained now is just as valuable.
“The guys are all really helpful,” Pace said. “Everyone has helped get you up to speed on what the program is all about.”
A number of South Dakota natives are either primed for big-time roles or are also working their way through the ranks.
Junior wide receiver Will Powell (Sioux Falls) is the team’s biggest big-play threat, while sophomore Kevin Robb (Rapid City, St. Thomas More) will again be USD’s kicker. Senior linebacker Shea Williams (Alexandria, Hanson) led the defense in tackles in 2010.
Fifth-year senior Matt Porisch (Flandreau) will see significant action on the offensive line.
Among the freshmen is Drew Iddings (Rapid City Stevens), who Meierkort called a “freak of nature” on the defensive line.
Great West Farewell Tour
Before bolting to the Missouri Valley Football Conference next year, where the Coyotes will re-join rivals South Dakota State and North Dakota State, USD has one final season in the Great West Conference.
This season will mark USD’s fourth in the five-team league, which also includes North Dakota, Southern Utah, Cal Poly and UC Davis.
Asked what he will remember most about the Great West, USD senior quarterback Dante Warren said, “Heart and dedication.”
“None us in the Great West can go to the (national) championship, but year in and year out, we were some of the best teams in 1AA (Football Championship Subdivision),” he said after Saturday’s second practice. “We’ve showed heart, just because we’ve persevered through not being able to make the playoffs.
“What would seem to other people as pushing through for nothing, we push through for that Great West title.”
The Coyotes have posted a 4-7 record in Great West action over the last three years, with 2009’s 2-2 mark being the best performance so far.
Road wins have proven to be hard to come by for all five teams in the league, as USD is 2-4 away from the DakotaDome — including last year’s losses at UC Davis and at eventual champion Southern Utah.
“This is our last chance to win this conference,” Meierkort said. “The team that wins the Great West is a team that figures out how to win a road game; that’s what it comes down to.”
Each team in the league presents its own home field advantages, Meierkort said.
“The travel is difficult, and the venues are difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to play at North Dakota and it’s hard for teams to play here in the Dome. Nobody does too well out in California, because that’s a different style of ball out there.
“And when you go to Southern Utah, not only do you face a dangerous team, you’re playing in front of practically nobody,” Meierkort added. “It’s a completely different atmosphere.”
Opener Two Weeks Away
Following Monday’s two sessions, USD has 10 practices remaining before the Sept. 3 season opener at Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Air Force, a member of the Mountain West Conference, received votes in both major pre-season top 25 polls — Associated Press (ranked No. 35) and USA Today (No. 35). The Falcons defeated Georgia Tech last December in the Independence Bowl.
“Our kids are going to be excited, and they’re already amped up for that one,” Meierkort said. “Once you get past all the gameday atmosphere stuff, somehow between the hashes, we’ve got to figure out a way to beat them. We’re in the process of that right now.”
For the next two weeks, though, the Coyotes are focused on getting through camp, Meierkort said.
“We’re still in fall camp mode,” he said. “We’ve still got a few weeks before we start actually scheming for Air Force.”
BY JEREMY HOECK, YANKTON PRESS