BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — After five games, Kevin Earl is back under center at the University of South Dakota.
Five games and six weeks and one broken thumb later, the junior quarterback will return for the Coyotes, who host No. 21-ranked Northern Iowa for today’s (Saturday) 3 p.m. homecoming game at the DakotaDome.
“It seems like forever since I’ve been out there,” Earl said after a practice this week. “It’s nice to be able to get rid of some of the rust.”
Earl broke a bone in his right thumb after slamming it against a helmet in the season opener at Oregon. His backup, Ryan Saeger, started the next five games, leading the Coyotes to a 2-2 record.
Even with that much time away from game action, Earl maintained this week that his timing and accuracy feel crisp — all with little to no pain in his right hand.
“I’ve always had a pretty good feel with our receivers,” he said. “It doesn’t really take too long to get back on the same page with them.”
Though the Coyotes boast a potent rushing attack that averages 214 yards a game, the receivers are anxious to have their offensive leader back.
“It’s nice to have him back,” sophomore Riley Donovan said. “It’s a whole new energy on the field.”
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — It wasn’t that long ago that Nick Jacobs was laying on a hospital bed, battling a persistent virus that enlarged his spleen.
And now, number 56 is ready to return to the defensive line for the University of South Dakota football team.
Jacobs, a junior defensive tackle, was medically cleared Wednesday and will see his first action of the season Saturday afternoon when the Coyotes host No. 21 Northern Iowa.
“I always knew I would come through,” Jacobs said after Wednesday’s practice, his first since Aug. 17. “I never lost faith or lost hope.”
A two-year starter on the line for the Coyotes (2-3), Jacobs developed an infection in his esophagus during pre-season practices and soon had ulcers. He found it difficult to swallow food, which prompted a weight loss.
Not to mention trips to the hospital.
“It was tough being there for five days, then coming out and not being able to practice,” Jacobs said.
Though he wasn’t in action for USD’s first five games, Jacobs was still a noticeable presence at practices, helping his fellow defensive lineman — next to d-line coach Marquice Williams.
“It’s been a while, but being able to watch the guys and spending time with coach Williams has made me a better player,” Jacobs said.
In what way?
In the sense that even though Jacobs hasn’t been going through drills, he’s still been in the loop, he said. There were still some early rust to be knocked off in Wednesday’s first practice back, but no worry, Jacobs added.
“It took a little bit of time, but honestly, I’ve been so focused with the guys,” he said. “I knew all the plays and what to do.”
And so, he will rejoin a defensive line unit that has recorded one sack on the season.
The Coyotes have played on the line: Drew Iddings (18 tackles, 1 sack), Sean Bredl (16 tackles, 1 INT), Fred Beaugard (14), Bailey Sutko (8), Adam Praska (4), Kray Krolikowski (3), Jon Maag (2), Mason Ruiz (1) and Matt Miller (1).
As the swelling of Jacobs’ spleen has subsided, he has been able to boost his weight — back up near 285 pounds, Glenn said.
“Time’s a wasting. We need him,” the Coyote coach said. “I hope he plays a whale of a game. We really need him.”
His teammates agreed.
“You really can’t do anything about it, stuff like that happens, but it’s awesome we got him back,” sophomore wide receiver Riley Donovan said. “He’s a playmaker. We need him.”
Jacobs, who has started 20 games (and played in all 21) over the previous two seasons, might need a little time to rediscover his game speed Saturday, according to Glenn.
“His first game, he might be finding his way,” Glenn said. “It’s the same thing with our quarterback. It might take a little time to develop a rhythm.”
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — For the second consecutive home game, the University of South Dakota football team will wear special uniforms.
This time, though, the Dakota Days homecoming game will feature a flashier feel.
And will have the Coyotes following in the footsteps of such major-conference programs as Oregon.
The Coyotes (2-3), who host No. 21 Northern Iowa on Saturday, unveiled Wednesday a specially-designed chrome helmet. Those will be accompained by chrome uniforms, which will be unveiled today (Thursday).
“It’s something we need,” said junior quarterback Kevin Earl, who will start Saturday in his return from a thumb injury.
“We need a little boost right now. Hopefully it helps us.”
A group of former players donated money to help their alma mater purchase a variety of uniforms, including the all-chrome jerseys and helmets, according to head coach Joe Glenn.
USD wore a throwback-style uniform during the Sept. 20 home game with Northern Arizona.
At a cost of double the normal helmet price, USD purchased the chrome helmets with decals, so they can be replaced — rather than buying helmets that had the chrome color and logo painted on.
The full look — which was kept secret from the players — was then displayed after Sunday night’s practice, with a hype video posted to the USD website.
“It’s vogue in college football, to do something like that,” Glenn said after Wednesday’s practice. “And we thought it might be a shot in the arm for us.”
Among the players, senior running back Jasper Sanders has known for perhaps the longest — 2-3 weeks, he said.
“It was tough not to tell anyone,” Sanders said Wednesday.
“I love the design,” he added. “When you see it all together, it looks even better.”
Might it be the spark the Coyotes, who lost by 31 points in last week’s Missouri Valley Football Conference opener, need?
That remains to be seen, but the team is still anxious to unveil its new look, according to junior defensive tackle Nick Jacobs.
“Word on the street is that we’re the first in the FCS to have chrome helmets,” he joked. “That’s pretty exciting.
“It’s pretty much the Oregon of the FCS over here.”
The Ducks, who the Coyotes saw in person in the season opener, are the most notable example of a college football program that mixes and matches its uniform combinations.
For example, Oregon wore all-yellow uniform (called ‘Sonic Boom’) during a game with Michigan State, and later wore pink uniforms against Arizona to support breast cancer awareness month.
“Oregon started the trend, and I think college football is starting to move that way with the flashy uniforms,” Earl said. “It’s cool to be here and have something like that.
“You don’t see too many Missouri Valley teams wearing chrome uniforms.”
Not only will the DakotaDome crowd get to see the chrome look, so to will a national audience — Saturday’s game will be available on ESPN3.com.
“You definitely get more excited; everyone in the stadium does,” sophomore wide receiver Riley Donovan said. “It’ll be sold out Saturday, and we know the fans will love it.”
BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION — As Craig Smith approached the unofficial yet official start to his first season at the University of South Dakota, reality quickly set in.
Everything around him, on the court and in the office, was new.
He was faced with a 16-man roster that included eight returning players and eight newcomers, who would be playing for an entirely new coaching staff.
“I found myself putting guys in unfair positions, so we had to take a step back,” Smith said Friday, shortly before his program took to the court at the start of official practices for the 2014-15 season.
“We’ve even got such good chemistry on our staff, that at times I forget even we haven’t worked together for long.”
Smith, who was hired away from the Huskers and the Big Ten, brought in six transfers and two freshmen to help bolster a Coyote program that won 12 games last season.
Particularly in early practices, the key will be developing chemistry with such a mix, Smith said.
“It’s all new for everybody, both players and coaches,” he said.
“The terminology, defensive concepts, offensive concepts, everything, it’s all new.”
Even on the sidelines.
Smith quickly hired Austin Hansen (previously at South Dakota State), Gameli Ahelegbe and Eric Peterson to his staff. Their common bond?
“The only thing we know is to work our hands to the bone to build toward earning a championship,” Smith said.
To that end, the Coyotes got a bit of an early start over the summer.
Eleven of the 16 players were on campus to work out in groups of four until Sept. 15, the date at which all the players could take the court together. Smith and his held four team workouts in the two weeks leading up to Friday’s official start date.
Certainly, it helped having five of last season’s top six scorers back for USD.
Returning are senior Brandon Bos (11.9 ppg), junior Tyler Flack (8.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), junior Trey Norris (8.0 ppg, 4.0 apg), junior Adam Thoseby (7.7 ppg), junior Casey Kasperbauer (6.7 ppg), senior Tyler Larson (5.0 ppg) and junior Eric Robertson (2.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg).
A group of transfers will also join the mix, including James Hunter (from Washington State), Duol Mayot (Northeastern JC), Sekou Harris (South Plains College), Edson Avila (Southern Miss), Tre Burnette (Williston State) and Zach Dickerson (Eastern Illinois).
Then there were two freshmen added to the roster, Logan Power (Lincoln, Neb.) and Dejon Davis (Bloomington, Minn.).
And so, Smith and his staff is faced with quite a challenge to blend those elements together, he said.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s exciting at the same time,” Smith said. “It’s one of the reasons you love to coach. You love the Xs and Os, you love going to practice every day.”
Getting everyone on the same page is understandably a focus early in practices, he added.
“Every day is a chance to do that,” Smith said. “You have to win the locker room. When the locker room’s all in, it’s amazing what can happen.”
The Coyote men open the 2014-15 season Nov. 14 at Utah Valley.
BY JEREMY HOECK
The title defense begins Monday for the University of South Dakota women’s basketball team.
Coming off a Summit League tournament crown and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Coyotes officially start practices for the 2014-15 season on Monday.
Women’s teams can begin practices 40 days before the season opener — which for USD is Friday, Nov. 14 — and have 30 practices to fit in during that span.
“It’s always exciting when you get back into that routine with everyone, knowing that the season is around the corner,” head coach Amy Williams said Thursday.
An NCAA rule change a year ago now allows women’s coaches to spend two hours each week during the summer on the court with their players.
“So at least it’s not like we haven’t been doing anything,” Williams joked.
Between all the rules and dates, it’s a constant juggling act, Williams said.
“We’re so lucky that we have a great compliance staff,” she said.
Winners of 19 games last season, the Coyotes will return four starters from the NCAA Tournament run: Seniors Nicole Seekamp, Raeshel Contreras and Lisa Loeffer, and junior point guard Tia Hemiller.
Junior Heidi Hoff returns after missing all but 12 games (all starts) last season with a knee injury.
South Dakota also brings back nearly every reserve (two left the program): Juniors Margaret McCloud, Kelly Stewart and Taylor Moore, and sophomores Jaylah Jackson and Bridget Arens.
Kate Liveringhouse, a 6-foot-1 center, is the only freshman on the roster.
The Coyotes face two key issues as practices begin: Only 11 players will be eligible for 2014-15 and USD must replace starting center — and team leader — Polly Harrington.
Thirteen players are on the roster, but two (Abigail Fogg and Caitlin Duffy) will redshirt this season as transfers.
“It’s a little scary,” Williams said. “It makes staying healthy extremely important.”
Fogg, a 6-foot-4 post, came to USD from American University (Washington, D.C.), while Duffy, a 5-foot-11 guard from Rapid City, transferred from Colorado State — where she was the Mountain West Conference Sixth Player of the Year.
“It’ll be good for us to have them in practice, they’ll make us better,” Williams said.
When it comes to replacing Harrington (last season’s Summit League tournament MVP), the Coyotes are likely to move McCloud into a starting role, Williams said.
McCloud, a 6-foot-2 Rapid City native, played 17 minutes a game last season and led the Summit League in field goal percentage (59.9).
“That’s the good thing, Margaret has played significant minutes for two years,” Williams said. “We’ll ask her to step into a new role, so she’ll have to have more sustainability with more minutes.”
The Coyotes open the 2014-15 season Nov. 14 at Drake, and will play four road games before the Nov. 24 home opener with UC Irvine.