CSC Football Team Looking Forward To Full Schedule This Fall

Photo Courtesy: Kaleb Center, CSC Sports Information

Judging by the size of the crowd that nearly filled Don Beebe Stadium for the Chadron State football team’s spring encounter with Wayne State on Saturday, April 24, fans of all ages are eager for the sport to return full force this fall.

So are the coaches and their players who during the past year have practiced much more than usual but played fewer games than any other Eagles since World War II, some 75 years ago.

“We’re just looking for normalcy,” said Head Coach Jay Long.  “We’re encouraged that it’s going to happen.  We’ve got an 11-game schedule just about solidified and with COVID declining, we’re sure we’ll be able to do things like usual until last year.”

Thanks to the go-ahead given by President Randy Rhine and Athletic Director Joel Smith, Coach Long and his staff tried their best to keep their team on track last fall.  The Eagles were one of five RMAC teams that “found a way” to practice and play a few games while a majority of college football was on the sidelines.

After practicing most of the fall about like usual, the Eagles played four games, going 2-2 and preparing for a couple more that were called off because of the virus. 

“We’re glad we did what we did, even when we didn’t know how things were going to turn out,” Long said last week.  “We brought in several transfers with lots of ability who are making us a better team. A lot of young players also learned and gained valuable experience.

“Then, the NCAA allowed teams to practice more this spring than ever before to make up for the time they’d lost last fall and be ready for 2021.  Previously, only 15 practices were allowed during the spring, but we practiced 39 times beginning in February and ending with the spring game. I assure you, we’re a smarter and more experienced football team now.”

In addition, Long discussed how the Eagles went to Northern Colorado and Wayne State came to Chadron for workouts, “giving us repetitions against somebody besides ourselves.” 

Long uses one of his offensive lineman as an example. Aksel Turk is a 6-foot-7, 260-pound sophomore from Norway who has been on the roster the past three years.  But he’s been on the field in a game for only one snap.  However, this spring, he was the left tackle against someone other than teammates 60 times while signals were called and his performance mattered.   

Players such as Turk with limited game experience saw at least half of the playing time in the two spring contests. 

“We know what our veterans can do. We’re pleased with them,” Long said. “Our goal was to give younger players a chance to show their stuff and help them be ready to play, too.”

Since last fall’s abbreviated schedule did not count in eligibility calculations, this year’s team will have numerous “fifth-year seniors.”

“We’re going to have veterans at a lot of positions,” Long noted.

They include quarterback Dalton Holst, who has already completed 698 passes and needs to throw for just 1,100 more yards to match Jonn McLain’s CSC career pass yardage record.  His favorite targets will include classmates Cole Thurness and Chad Michaelson while the array of running backs will include Elijah Myles, who rushed for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019, along with Jalen Starks, the 250-pound UCLA transfer who ran for 330 yards and scored seven TDs in the Eagles’ four games last fall.

The offensive line returns intact from last fall, led by all-conference choice Justin Calderon along with fellow tackle Juan Estrada-Sanchez, guards Austin Rapp and Jake Norris and budding all-star Michael DeCamillis at center.  Long said others such as Trent Grizzle, Emmitt Rosentrader, who moved to guard from the defensive line this spring, along with the aforementioned Turk will provide solid depth.

For the first time in several years, the Eagles are without an experienced tight end, but Long and offensive coordinator Micah Smith are high on youngsters Peter Krohn and Riley Schliep filling the bill. Smith also lauds the speed and pass catching skills demonstrated by Jahani WrightAli Musa and Montel Gladley at wide receiver this spring and adds that freshman Jeydon Cox is shifty and gives the Eagles a change of pace in the rushing game. 

Cox averaged 7.6 yards on 32 carries last fall.  State champion sprinter Chris Busby, who rushed for 1,936 yards as a senior at Scottsbluff High School in 2018, is another promising backfield candidate.

The defense is a blend of veterans who experienced success in 2019, the Eagles’ last full season, transfers who made a big impact last fall and rising young prospects.

The coaches are happy that end Brandon Hopkins, who did his student teaching this spring, is returning to play another year.  They believe Gabe Perkins is a rising star at end and say that Kael Juelfs and Hunter O’Connor will provide solid depth.

In the middle of the line, senior Teyvan Bray missed spring practice because of an injury, but should be at full speed again in the fall. He’ll be joined by young tackles such as Kobe WhippleTrevon Smith and Kien Martin and  the biggest of them all, Richard Harris at 6-5, 325.

Inside linebacker Travis Wilson was the RMAC’s busiest tackler in 2019 with 124 stops, including 13 for minus yards.  On the outside, rangy Noah Kerchel also had 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in ’19. They were joined by transfer Jeremiah Makahununiu last fall, when he averaged 9.5 tackles in the Eagles’ four games.

Defensive Coordinator Clint Sasse is also high on younger linebackers such as Joey Geil and Xavier Harrell.  The coaches also believe former Sioux County all-stater Tommy Watson will be another six-man graduate to become a contributor. 

“In this era of wide open passing games, we need linebackers who are explosive, can run, hit and cover (receivers).” Sasse noted.   “It’s not an easy place to play, but we are fortunate to have some really capable guys who understand the game.”
Sasse, himself a CSC defensive back less than a decade ago, believes this year’s secondary also will be solid. 

“We’ll have a group of guys who can play multiple positions back there,” Sasse noted.

The mix includes transfers Ju’Wan Murphy and Bobby Peale, both Fresno, Calif., natives who had lots of success at their former schools. Sasse said Peale, who picked off three passes in the four games last fall, fits the description of a rover, someone who moves around in various coverages.   

It’s helpful that another veteran, cornerback Jeremiah Guitierrez, has the ability to cover special receivers one-on-one. Sasse also says sophomore Cole Condon “understands defenses well and helps get everyone in the right spots.” He adds that Alliance product Brendan Brehmer is another smart player with a physical presence in the backfield.

Freshman Dax Yeradi is expected to get considerable playing time this fall, the coaches said.

“Because we had so many practices and worked so hard even when we sometimes didn’t know if we’d have a game, I think we’ve got more guys who are ready to play than we’ve ever had during my 10 years as head coach,” Long said. 

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