In just over two weeks, the Chadron State College football team is to launch its abbreviated 2020 schedule. The Eagles will open against the Colorado Mesa Mavericks in Grand Junction at noon on Saturday, Oct. 10.
Head Coach Jay Long said everyone connected with his program is excited about playing again. Five games are on the fall schedule. The others are home-and-away dates with Black Hills State and South Dakota Mines.
“We feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity,” Long said. “We appreciate so much that President (Randy) Rhine and Athletic Director Joel Smith have given us permission to play and have helped with the arrangements. We’re following all the procedures for a safe atmosphere and making sure everything goes well.”
Long said about 70 players from last year’s team, a half dozen transfers and nearly 40 freshmen have been practicing the past two weeks. The Eagles have been in full pads and having contact on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and doing “walk throughs” and meetings on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They are being tested for the coronavirus weekly. Anyone showing any symptoms is not allowed to participate.
So far, that number has been minimal, Long said. The players are wearing masks when they gather.
Considerable rebuilding is necessary. The Eagles graduated 16 seniors from last year’s 6-5 team. They included leading receiver Tevon Wright, who caught 74 passes for 1,146 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall, along with offensive line standout Jared Maciejczak. Among the 2019 seniors missing on defense are pesky linebacker Tyler Lewis and secondary stalwarts DeAndre Barthwell and Tyree Fryar.
A few underclassmen who were team leaders also are not on the current roster. They include Elijah Myles, who ran for 1,077 yards and 12 TDs last season. Because of the virus, he decided to remain at his home in California this fall, but plans to return when conditions improve.
“If the players don’t feel safe, they don’t have to play this fall,” Long noted. “We won’t be playing for a championship or anything like that. But athletes want to play their game and we’re glad our football team is getting a chance to make that happen.”
Long said even though the Eagles don’t have a proven running back, the offense should be potent. Quarterback Dalton Holst, who set school records for most passing yards (3,119) and touchdowns (33), is back along with two-time team MVP, Cole Thurness, who caught 65 passes for 827 yards and 8 TDs in 2019.
Tight ends Colt Foster and Baylor Hayes also are all-star caliber.
Five players who saw a bulk of the action in the offensive line along with Maciejczak last fall have returned. They are Justin Calderone, Michael DeCamillis, Juan Estrada-Sanchez, Jake Norris and Austin Rapp.
Defensively, the Eagles will have more size up front and some outstanding linebackers, Coordinator Craig Jersild stated. The latter include Travis Wilson, the RMAC’s leading tackler with 124 stops last fall, and budding standout Noah Kerchal.
“We don’t have much experience in places, but we have a lot of young talent and desire. We’re getting better every day,” Jersild said.