Q&A with USD lineman Nile Banks

Left guard Nile Banks (right). P&D photo by James D. Cimburek

Left guard Nile Banks (right). P&D photo by James D. Cimburek


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.

Another first for the Missouri Valley


(P&D File Photo)

(P&D File Photo)

As the Missouri Valley Football Conference closed the book on its record-breaking 2014 season, there wasn’t much remaining the league hadn’t accomplished.

It sent half of its teams – five, a record – to the playoffs, and for the first time ever, two teams from the same league met in the championship game. And in both postseason polls, six Valley teams cracked the top-25.

That kind of showing was going to be difficult to beat, right?

“I thought last year was going to be hard to top, and here we are with another record,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said Tuesday.

That record came Monday when the Valley occupied half of the top-10 in both major FCS polls, the STATS media and coaches – a first for the conference.

Though the order is slightly different, the teams are the same: North Dakota State, Illinois State, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Youngstown State. And for good measure, Indiana State is also among the top-25.

Three other league teams – Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and South Dakota – were receiving votes in the media poll, which leaves Missouri State as the only conference team not receiving national recognition.

“There isn’t a team you can rest on,” Spack said. “You never have any breathing room on a Saturday afternoon.

South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier, whose Jackrabbits boast their highest FCS ranking, was quick to caution that this week’s news is probably more a carryover of 2014.

“I think initially we all need to acknowledge that it’s a result somewhat of last year’s success, which puts you in the top-25 initially,” he said. “When you have success early, it moves you up.”

In the case of SDSU (3-0), however, it likely climbed the rankings because of its FBS win over Kansas. The Jacks, though, have an opportunity to climb even higher with a win Saturday over North Dakota State – even a loss isn’t likely to drop the Jacks all that much.

That’s the story with the Missouri Valley, which begins conference play this weekend: Nearly every matchup features a ranked team, which means a playoff-caliber team will lose.

“It’s a fun league; a great league,” Stiegelmeier said.

Triston Simpson commits to USD


Triston Simpson

Triston Simpson

The University of South Dakota men’s basketball program won a major recruiting battle in landing the commitment of point guard Triston Simpson.

Simpson, a 6-foot senior at Lincoln (Nebraska) North Star High School, announced Sunday evening that he has committed to USD – choosing the Coyotes over offers from three other Summit League schools.

“I felt comfortable up there,” Simpson said shortly after his announcement. “The coaches believe in me, and I believe in the coaches.”

In the end, that was the overriding factor for the services of Simpson.

“Really, the most important thing in recruiting was the coaching staff and the players,” he said. “I really got to know the coaching staff, got to hang out with the guys, and I really liked the coaching staff.”

Simpson, who made an official visit to USD last weekend and was on-hand for the football game against Drake, averaged 17.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game as a junior last season at North Star.

It was that production, combined later with his AAU play over the summer with the OSA Crusaders that made Simpson a popular target for D-I schools. Simpson said he had offers from South Dakota State, North Dakota State and Omaha within the Summit League.

More than USD’s upcoming 6,000-seat basketball arena (which will open during his freshman season), Simpson said he was impressed by USD’s Business school – he wants to pursue a business degree.

And yes, the arena was a factor.

“The new arena is going to be phenomenal,” he said. “But really, the people, everyone up there, are genuine. It’s really a nice, small college town.”

But again, Simpson went back to the relationship he developed with head coach Craig Smith and the rest of the USD coaching staff.

“I think he’s really going to turn this program around,” Simpson said of Smith. “The last few years haven’t been the greatest; they haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament, but I think he’ll help get them there.”

Simpson pointed to last season – Smith’s first at USD – as proof that the Coyotes might just be trending upward.

USD was picked to finish eighth out of nine teams in the Summit League last season, but won nine conference games and won a game in the post-season tournament for the first time. The Coyotes eventually lost to South Dakota State in the semifinals.

“I think that shows how good of a coach he is,” Simpson said.

As for how good of a player he is, Simpson referred to himself as a “true point guard.”

“I can score if I need to, and I’m a good passer with good vision,” he said. “And I can only get better.”

How can the USD staff help him get better?

During his visit to Vermillion, Simpson watched USD assistant coach Austin Hansen working with the Coyote guards, and to Simpson, some of those techniques reminded him of what he has been doing with a personal trainer back home.

“I saw some of the same things,” Simpson said.

As for making his college decision, yes, it was certainly a relief, Simpson joked.

“It was a long process, and I’m relieved to have it over,” he said. “But I know I picked the right school.”