Q&A with USD tight end Aaron Ramsey


USD tight end Aaron Ramsey catches a pass during a 2014 game. (P&D File Photo)

USD tight end Aaron Ramsey catches a pass during a 2014 game. (P&D File Photo)

VERMILLION – Aaron Ramsey saw his promising redshirt freshman season cut short by a knee injury last fall.

He had been billed as one of the top-catching tight ends in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and through six games showed he could be a weapon: 12 catches, 225 yards, 0 TD, but 18.8 yards per grab.

Then came the knee injury.

And then came the comeback, following surgery.

Ramsey, a Kansas native who was once a former quarterback, caught one pass in each of the first three games this season, but was utilized more as a blocker than he was a down-field threat.

He then broke through for a 5-reception, 49-yard effort in last Saturday’s come-from-behind win over Southern Illinois. Ramsey had the game-winning 5-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter that kept USD’s playoff hopes alive.

He chatted with the Press & Dakotan after Tuesday’s practice about the upcoming game with South Dakota State and coming back from the injury.

You’ve been through this game a couple times, with all that extra stuff on the side, but isn’t it nice going in with something to play for?

Oh for sure. It makes it that much better. We know what State is about and we know what we’re about, and both of us playing for a playoff spot makes it that much better.

It probably brings that game up to a different level, doesn’t it?

Last year, we had what, two wins, and our season was basically over. But adding that playoff piece to it, brings it to a whole other level.

That’s what you want to see in a rivalry game, right?

Definitely. It’s not going to be one-sided, or at least it shouldn’t be. We’d like it to be on our side, but it’ll probably be a close game.

Does it make a big difference than it’s a home game for you guys?

I think it does. Being in the Dome is awesome. Nobody likes playing up there (smiles). We’re not fans of that field. Definitely being here with our fans and the Dome atmosphere is huge.

What was that like last week for you, getting more involved in the pass game and playing a big role in the win?

It was good; felt good getting back to how it was last year before I got hurt. I’ve been grinding and I had to work out a few kinks from the surgery. It felt good to actually contribute, and in a big way.

Were there hurdles to overcome to get back in the flow?

The mental aspect was a big thing for me. They always talked to me about how the knee was fine, but the mental part was going to be hard. And I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. Coaches would keep at me about doing this or doing that, and it’s been meeting with different coaches and working on different things.

Was the injury always in the back of your mind?

I think subconsciously. It wasn’t one of those things where I thought, ‘It’s going to hurt now,’ but even the coaches could tell that maybe I was a step slower because of it. Playing with the knee brace, it has definitely taken some getting used to. I didn’t wear it for most of the off-season, to try to get ready to play without it. But when it came time to play, I thought I better wear it. Nine games, I guess that’s what it took.

And nine games in and two more to go. What’s the key to beating South Dakota State?

Holding on to the football, big time. Defense has played great all year. They’ve given us the ball back, like last week. For us, it’s don’t turn the ball over on offense. Keep their offense off the field as much as possible and give guys like Gink (Andrew Van Ginkel) and Drew Iddings more time to do some damage.

Q&A with USD junior Bridget Arens

USD junior Bridget Arens does an interview with a TV station during Monday's media day. (James D. Cimburek/P&D)

USD junior Bridget Arens does an interview with a TV station during Monday’s media day. (James D. Cimburek/P&D)


VERMILLION – The last time Bridget Arens and Allison Arens played on the basketball court together, it was in a 2013 Nebraska state high school championship game in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The next time the sisters from Crofton, Nebraska, will play together?

On Friday night for the University of South Dakota against the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

That’s quite a difference.

Bridget, now a junior for the Coyotes, has thrived in her two seasons of Division I hoops in Vermillion. In a reserve role, she has averaged 5.2 points and 3.6 points for USD, which has reached the NCAA Tournament and the WNIT during her career.

Now, for the first time since that 2012-13 season at Crofton, she’ll be joined by her sister, Allison, a highly-touted guard – she led Crofton to two more state titles after Bridget graduated.

As USD gets ready to head west for the season opener in Utah, Bridget answered a couple questions from the Press & Dakotan during Monday’s media day session in Vermillion.

How excited are you to play with your sister again?

It’s kind of a dream come true, it’s an awesome experience. It’s that sister bond you can’t really replace. I’m very fortunate because there aren’t too many sisters that get that opportunity.

You guys are really close, aren’t you?

Yeah, we’re very close. She’s like my best friend. All of us, from my oldest two brothers to my younger two sisters, we’re all close. Yesterday (Sunday), I took about seven or eight phone calls from my siblings, just calling to see how things are going. They say they miss me. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know (laughs)

When you got here, in the back of your mind were you thinking, ‘It’d be nice if Allison came here’?

Actually, that’s funny. When I was trying to make my college decision, Allison came with on a lot of the trips. I would ask her, ‘Allison, is that somewhere you’d play?’ And she’d say yes or no, and that narrowed my decision. Even when we were younger, in high school, playing together, it was definitely a sister communication. Obviously being home close to home; the home support is great, and coach Williams, those were all factors. She’s probably one of the most influential people I’ve ever met. I have one hundred percent respect for her.

Then, was it the same thing when Allison was deciding, that you helped her?

I tried to stay out of it a little bit more. I didn’t want to force her into something she didn’t want to do. I did explain to her a lot of the things I went through, and said, ‘Allison, coach Williams is a great person, the assistants are great people, and when it comes to family, family comes first. If that’s what you’re looking for, that’s what you’re getting here.’ Luckily enough she took my advice.

She was at that level where she could have gone to a number of Division I schools.

She had some decisions to make, but the bottom line was, she’s a family person. We couldn’t really leave our two little sisters in the dust; they mean a lot to us. The ability to be able to go home and spend time with family was part of the decision. I think she just loved Vermillion, the community aspect, the support. We’re lucky that way, that we all get that.

Are you expecting her to see some time this year?

You know, I think she’s learning a lot and growing a lot. She’ll get her time. Obviously it’s a little bit different coming from Crofton where she was used to having to play a lot, but she’s doing some good things so far. I like that I can be on the sidelines and can say, ‘OK, don’t do that.’ We’re working together that way. I think she’ll be OK.

What do you think of the team you have? It seems like it’s one of the deeper teams, at least since you’ve been here.

We were actually just talking about that in the locker room the other day, saying this is the deepest we’ve ever been. It’s kind of weird, because you get subbed out and you’re maybe not quite tired yet. But we have fresh legs all the time. We have five awesome seniors that will basically lead us to great things, I think. The depth of the team is exciting, because coach can do a lot of different things with us, and we’re all a threat.

And I would think a lot of teams say they have depth, but literally for this team, isn’t it like you have a second five that can come in?

That’s exactly how it is. I’m sure coach looks to the bench and thinks, ‘OK, which five should I put in?’ We have so many different combinations, and that was fun during our scrimmages to see who works well with each other.

Q&A with USD’s Colin Mertlik


South Dakota defensive linemen Colin Mertlik, 45, and Andrew Van Ginkel celebrate a fumble recovery during last Saturday's game against Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)

South Dakota defensive linemen Colin Mertlik, 45, and Andrew Van Ginkel celebrate a fumble recovery during last Saturday’s game against Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)

VERMILLION – In one of those random statistical finds (I call those “nerd stats”) this week by the University of South Dakota sports information staff, redshirt freshman defensive end Andrew Van Ginkel has more sacks (8) than eight FCS teams this season.

Impressive, right?

But don’t forget about his counterpart on the other side of USD’s new 4-man front. His name is Colin Mertlik.

A junior from Blair, Nebraska, Mertlik recorded a pair of sacks – the same number as Van Ginkel – in USD’s loss at Northern Iowa last Saturday, and he forced a turnover on both.

The five total sacks by the Coyote defense was the program’s most in a single game since 2013 when a guy by the name of Tyler Starr was wreaking havoc in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Mertlik, like Van Ginkel, is a rather quiet guy, but took a few minutes after practice Tuesday to answer a few questions from the Press & Dakotan.

How has the switch to a 4-3 front on defense helped this season?

I think it’s helped a lot in the Missouri Valley, where the majority of the teams run. We’ve got more people in the box consistently, and I think it’s helped there, to stop the run.

Everyone has said the change was a product of your personnel, to fit better what you guys have.

Yeah, I think so. The coaches moved everybody around to their better position and it’s worked out well so far.

What has that meant to have a guy like Andrew Van Ginkel on the other side, and then the two big guys (Drew Iddings, Nick Jacobs) in the middle?

It’s good that we have two big guys in the middle, with Drew and Nick and Sean Bredl. That’s a nice contrast between Andrew and I. It’s worked out so far.

With the defense getting five sacks last week, do you think that was your best performance, pressure-wise, getting to the quarterback?

That’s the most sacks I think we’ve had all year, and it was spread across the board. We missed some too, but it wasn’t just one person getting sacks. That was nice to see.

And that quarterback (Aaron Bailey) looked tough to bring down. Was that a factor in not having as many sacks as you guys could have?

Yeah, he’s big and he’s fast. We went into the week knowing that’s who we had to stop, so that’s what we tried to do.

What do you think Saturday with Mark Iannotti of Southern Illinois, probably a whole different challenge? He’s not as much of a runner, but looks pretty dangerous throwing the ball.

What we’ve seen on film is that he definitely likes to throw. He’s their best player; one of the best players in the conference. We’ll have to stop him.

With what coach Glenn was talking about after practice today, do you still feel like playoffs are realistic?

Yeah, I think so. If we win a couple more games, hopefully people take into consideration the conference we play in and some of our big wins. Getting there is a goal we’ve had since the beginning of the season, and I think it’s still within our grasp.

How nice is it knowing you’ve got two of the final three games left at home?

That really helps. It’s a lot easier to play in front of your home fans.

I’d think it’d be easy to look at the final three as a group, with how much is at stake. How do you stay focused on Southern Illinois?

Just focusing on day by day, just looking at one team at a time helps out a lot.

Wasn’t it probably the same with North Dakota State? That you keyed yourselves up for that game?

We don’t look at teams we play two or three weeks down the road. We have to focus on the week at hand.