The 2022 season of Chadron State College football arrives with big question marks to address on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
In 2021 the Eagles enjoyed the veteran leadership of sixth-year quarterback Dalton Holst, whose 11,531 career passing yards now sit atop the CSC record book. For the first time in several years, they’ll have to replace him with someone who hasn’t started a game under center at CSC.
There are three prime candidates for the job.
The most veteran of the three is Heath Beemiller, a graduate transfer from Northern Arizona University. The junior, from Chandler, Arizona, has two years of eligibility remaining after redshirting as a safety in 2018, playing in seven games in 2019 as a quarterback, then playing one in spring of 2021 before transferring to CSC at the midpoint of 2021-22.
Also in the running is Preston Pearson, a redshirt freshman from Kearney High. He was a 2020 First Team Super State selection and also First Team All-Class A, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Pearson showed enough in spring drills to be elevated into the mix, after redshirting in 2021.
Returning from the backup role last season is sophomore Mason Hamilton from Gilette, Wyoming. The former two-time Wyoming Super 25 selection shadowed Holst in 2021 and saw relief action in six contests, completing touchdown passes in both of the Eagles’ final two games.
“All three guys we’re looking at for quarterback are athletic,” said CSC offensive coordinator Micah Smith. “They all run well and throw the ball efficiently. On top of that, they’re all smart football players who understand the game. It’s going to be tough to decide who gets the first snaps when we kick off next month.”
CSC returns four running backs who have previously carried the ball in games.
Leading 2021 rusher Jeydon Cox, of Jackson, Wyoming, returns to lead the pack. In his 15 games as an Eagle, he averages 6.2 yards a carry, which is good for third best in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference over the past two years. His 648 rushing yards in 2021 included nine touchdown plunges, and he added 161 yards receiving.
Dorian Collier is a change of pace from Cox. The Tallahassee, Florida native is bigger, at 6-1, 213 pounds, and provides a punch out of the backfield. He recorded 422 yards last fall on the ground and two scores.
Brock Ping, of Billings, Montana, also filled in for the backs last year, rushing 32 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
Returning from a year off is Jalen Starks, of Chicago, Illinois, who led the team in its four games of 2020, with 330 yards and seven scoring runs.
Mitchell’s Rylan Aguallo, a redshirt freshman, also joins the running back stable this fall, after a good spring.
The receivers are a talented group, but they must replace the production of Second Team All-RMAC pick Chad Mikelson, and Cole Thurness, a two-time all-conference receiver.
Competition surely begins with the two most experienced wideouts, Ali Musa of San Diego and Montel Gladney of Jackson, Mississippi. Both are seniors.
Musa is the leading returner from last season, when he caught 17 balls for 279 yards.
Gladney has 356 career receiving yards and three scoring catches at CSC, after transferring in for the fall of 2020.
Other top targets are sophomore Jamal Browder, of Carol City, Florida, junior Ahlonte Hair of Live Oak, Florida, and junior transfer Dre Evans, also of Live Oak.
The offensive line will be anchored at left tackle by senior returning All-RMAC First Teamer Juan Estrada-Sanchez of Denver. He will take over for All-America Second Teamer Justin Calderon, who will be a coaching assistant in the fall.
Broomfield, Colorado, junior Michael DeCamillis is the presumptive starter at center, where he’s played the past two seasons.
Redshirt freshman Vincent Mosley, of Fort Collins, Colorado, senior Emmit Rosentrater, of Paxton, Nebraska, and Aksel Turk of Nesodden, Norway, will enter fall camp atop the rotation for the other three positions up front.
Smith said that the offense will look to utilize the athleticism of the quarterbacks to rush the ball more from that position.
On the opposing side of the ball, the Eagles are looking to make up for the graduation of three of their top four tacklers at linebacker.
Junior Joey Geil, from Casper, Wyoming, is one to watch at middle linebacker. He led or shared the team lead in each of the final six games of 2021 after being forced into the lineup due to injuries. He also recorded the team’s second-best seven tackles for loss.
Likely joining Geil on the field are sophomores Saxon Wright, of Monument, Colorado, and Xavier Harrell of Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Also in the two-deep are transfers Heamasi Latu of Oakland, California and Jordan Suckow of Brentwood, California. Latu was the fourth-leading tackler for Nebraska-Kearney in the fall of 2020, while Suckow was an all-conference honoree at Tabor College last year.
Defensive coordinator Clint Sasse added that true freshman Ritchie McCormack, of Tucson, Arizona, could also work his way into the depth chart.
On the defensive front, the Eagles have plenty of options.
Junior Gabe Perkins of Aurora, Colorado and senior Tayven Bray of Highlands Ranch are the top ends, with sophomore Hunter O’Connor of Broomfield coming into the picture as well.
Interior linemen include senior Kobe Whipple of Rosebud, South Dakota, Fort Lewis graduate transfer Blayke De La Rosa of San Diego, sophomore Kien Martin of Overton, Nebraska, and redshirt freshmen Tanner True of Eaton, Colorado, and Isaiah Guerue of Morrill, Nebraska.
Casper, Wyoming, native Trevon Smith, a junior who started the past two seasons, will likely need a few more weeks of recovery from a knee injury.
Finally, the defensive backfield has some of the best depth it has seen in several years.
Two fifth-year players will certainly lead the unit. They are Brendan Brehmer of Alliance, Nebraska, and Bobby Peele of Fresno, California.
Brehmer had a breakout season in 2021 with 55 tackles and a blocked kick. In previous seasons he had battled injuries, but he was able to recover and start all 11 games last fall.
Peele is a First Team All-RMAC cornerback. Going back to his two seasons in junior college, with one and a half at CSC, Peele has 21 interceptions in 33 games. He finished last season with six picks in 10 games.
Right now, penciled in at the other two secondary positions are junior Jahvonte Hair, the twin brother of Ahlonte, and redshirt freshman Dax Yeradi of Wright, Wyoming.
A host of other defensive backs are expected to contribute.
“Defensively, we’re about as deep as we’ve ever been,” said defensive coordinator Clint Sasse. “We’ve got guys at every level who can play, and we’re excited to start hitting.”
Special teams will look similar to last year. Senior Gunnar Jones of Rogersville, Alabama, will handle kickoff and placekicking duties. Jones may also punt, but there are others who might be called into action as well, including junior Parker Dillan of Imperial, Nebraska, who punted in 2020, and redshirt freshman Brodie Eisenbraun of Sturgis, South Dakota.
Returning the ball will likely be running back Jeydon Cox and receiver Dre Evans.
Head Football Coach Jay Long knows the schedule starts off with a bang, and he looks forward to the challenge.
“When you look at our first five games,” said Long, “we start out traveling to the Lone Star Conference favorite. Then you go right back on the road to a Division I opponent. We have a big home game against our rival, and then it’s right back on the road. Three of our first five games are against playoff teams, and you add in Utah Tech, who used to be Dixie State. We want to compete for the conference, and we want to make the playoffs, and that’s the kind of schedule it takes.”
Fall camp began on Monday, August 8. The first game of the season is on September 1 at San Angelo, Texas. Kickoff time is 6 p.m. MT.