BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION – Nile Banks knows his team is improved. But the University of South Dakota junior offensive lineman pumps the breaks when it comes to his team having accomplished anything yet.
The Iowa City, Iowa, native, points out that yes, while his Coyotes have won back-to-back games heading into Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference opener against Youngstown State, last year proved that anything can happen.
A year ago, USD won two of its four non-conference games, but then opened league play with a 31-point loss at Southern Illinois, and then lost the next seven games against league foes.
Banks, USD’s left guard, has had a front-row seat.
Dating back to the start of last season, he has started 15 consecutive games for the Coyotes – tied for second on the team behind linebacker Keyen Lage (29).
And so, Banks has experienced those lows. He remembers what it was like to head into the conference schedule with a little bit of momentum, only to see injuries pile up and his team drop every league game.
He took a few minutes after practice Tuesday evening to chat with the Press & Dakotan about earning respect.
P&D: Would beating Youngstown State be a step in that direction toward earning some respect?
Banks: Yeah. We have no reason to think we should be respected in the MVFC at this point, from what we’ve done in the last three years. This season, we need to take a step. We’ve always been good against the non-conference teams, then we go into the Valley and we fall apart. If we want to be respected in this league, we have to go into the Valley and win some games to earn respect.
Would you call that cautious optimism, then? Because you remember what it was like last year?
Even the last few years, it’s never been good. We feel better this year than we have any other season, but no one on this team thinks we’ve arrived, or we’ve gotten to the point where we can walk into the MVFC and win every game. We know it’s not there yet.
Would winning Saturday be a confidence booster toward thinking you’re getting closer?
Winning Saturday, that’s our number one goal, obviously. Youngstown State’s a great team, so if we can beat them, it’d be another boost going in. It’s not like we’ve never won a conference game before, we’ve done it, but we would know we’re still not there yet even if we win on Saturday.
Isn’t that the nice thing about the Missouri Valley, that pretty much every week you’ll be faced with what could be a signature win?
You never really go into a weekend thinking we should be able to cake-walk here, so yeah, every weekend if you win a game, it’s a big one.
How important was it for you guys to get the run game going? (USD has rushed for 243 and 296 yards in its last two games)
It feels great. When you go on to the field, even if the defense gives something up, knowing you can run the ball, the worries aren’t there.
What’s homecoming week like?
You can definitely feel more school spirit; it’s on the rise. The dome is always electric on Saturday of D-Days, so that’ll be fun.