BY JEREMY HOECK
VERMILLION – Joe Glenn had somewhere to be in a half-hour, but the University of South Dakota football coach took 15 minutes to address his team after a practice this week.
The message was clear: If you want respect, go out and earn it.
Glenn, whose Coyotes (2-1) open Missouri Valley Conference action Saturday against Youngstown State, was asked later what it will take to beat the No. 10-ranked Penguins.
His response? A win.
“Nothing else would fill that hole,” Glenn said.
Wins in the Missouri Valley – which boasts six ranked teams this week – have, however, been elusive for the Coyotes. Twice, USD has gone winless in league play, and the program’s record in the conference is 3-21.
Picked to finish last, by a wide margin, the Coyotes have long since realized that close losses mean little in the big picture.
“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,” junior offensive lineman Nile Banks said.
It’s not as though the Coyotes are wholly unfamiliar with competing with the best of the best in what is arguably the best FCS league. There were signs (four league losses by a touchdown or less in 2012). There was progress (three league wins in 2013). But then there was a step backward (the closest league loss in 2014 was seven points).
Developing confidence was a key area of focus, perhaps the first step in many, according to sophomore receiver Brandt Van Roekel.
“Overall, we got people to buy into the program and not worry about what other people think,” he said. “That’s got the culture flipped around; got people believing.
“And that’s the first part of the battle. When we believe we can do it, we’ll be able to.”
On the other hand, though, the Coyotes couldn’t exactly afford to concern themselves with outside perception, as tempting as it may be to find out what people think.
Wins, not solid performances in a loss, is what USD what will be judged on, as Van Roekel pointed out.
“We know we can do it, it’s just a matter of going out and proving to everyone else we can do it,” he said.
And, as Banks said matter-of-factly, more than once. One win Saturday over Youngstown State won’t mean much unless the Coyotes string together victories – like they did in 2013, when they won three straight.
“If we want to be respected in this league, we have to go into the Valley and win some games to earn respect,” Banks said.
Working in USD’s favor is back-to-back convincing wins over UC Davis and Drake, performances that certainly created a little bit of a buzz around the program. It was the long-awaited momentum Glenn consistently refers to.
“I think our kids feel it, our coaches feel it, but we’ve got to prove it on that thing right there,” he said, pointing to the DakotaDome scoreboard.
The combination of experience and health are playing to USD’s advantage right now, as the Coyotes gear up for a homecoming date with Bo Pelini and Youngstown State. Those two factors, along with that confidence, will eventually result in wins, Glenn said.
“I want our kids to feel that what they’ve done makes them worthy of winning,” he said. “They work hard, and something good is going to happen to them.”
Follow @jhoeck on Twitter