Chadron State College football goes on the field in full pads for the first time on Thursday, putting spring drills in high gear for the next three weeks. The Eagles are preparing for their annual spring game, which is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, at 10 a.m.
“We’ve got a lot of young faces out there,” said CSC Head Football Coach Jay Long. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve got a lot of guys who really need this spring to develop.”
The game begins with the quarterback position, where the Eagles are looking to replace five-year starter Dalton Holst, the top all-time career passer at CSC.
As things stand, vying to replace Holst are three top candidates as well as a host of others.
Heath Beemiller, a graduate transfer from the Big Sky Conference’s Northern Arizona University, will be the newest signal-caller to step into the competition. The Chandler, Arizona, native spent four years at his former school and will have two remaining at CSC.
Returning as Holst’s backup from last season is sophomore Mason Hamilton, who finished the last couple of games in 2021 under center. The former two-time Wyoming Super 25 pick, from Holst’s own hometown of Gillette, completed 8-of-16 passes last season for 164 yards and two touchdowns last season as a redshirt freshman.
Adding to the fray is redshirt freshman Preston Pearson, a Kearney High product who was a Lincoln Journal-Star Class A Super Stater in 2020.
“The quarterback situation is extremely competitive,” said Micah Smith, the team’s offensive coordinator. “We have three guys getting equal repetitions, and we’re just grading one practice at a time so we know what we have at the end.”
Smith added that all three are quarterbacks who like to get out and run, so the offense might take on a slightly new dimension this year.
Sophomore Jeydon Cox, of Jackson, Wyoming, returns as the top rusher this past season. He averages 5.8 yards on 170 carries over the past 15 games. Behind him are another pair of sophomores in Tallahassee, Florida’s Dorian Collier, and Billings, Montana’s Brock Ping, who each saw significant time last fall.
The leading rusher from 2020, Jalen Starks, is still enrolled at CSC and will be working hard in the classroom to return in the fall.
CSC returns a cadre of veteran receivers including senior Montel Gladney, juniors Ali Musa and Ahlonte Hair, and sophomores Jamal Browder and Peter Krohn, a tight end. All of these had at least 100 receiving yards in 2021, and they combined for eight touchdown receptions.
Along the offensive line, CSC will look to replace All-American Justin Calderon. Stepping into his empty spot at left tackle will likely be Juan Estrada-Sanchez, a First Team All-RMAC selection in 2021. Michael DeCamillis will snap the ball, as he’s done for two seasons, and the Eagles will look to a number of youngsters and transfers to shore up the remaining positions.
Senior Emmit Rosentrater, from Paxton, Nebraska, has opted to return for a “Covid” season and will likely assume a starting position in the fall.
Defensively, the Eagles will keep things simple this spring and look for playmakers to emerge.
“We’ll focus on playing fast,” said Clint Sasse, the team’s defensive coordinator. “We’re looking for aggression, and we want to play without thinking too much. We need to find players who are students of the game, and have a high football IQ.”
On the front trenches, three veterans – Gabe Perkins, Rich Harris, and Trevon Smith – who saw extended playing time in 2021, are out for spring with injuries. Fortunately, the Eagles are deep at the defensive line positions.
Senior Tayven Bray, junior Kobe Whipple, sophomores Kien Martin and Hunter O’Connor, and redshirt freshman Tanner True should be among the first to rotate in on the defensive front.
Three linebackers graduated with a total of 196 tackles last season, leaving an open competition at the position. However, CSC has played several young players who return with experience.
Leading them is junior Joey Geil of Casper, Wyoming, who was thrust into the starting lineup last season due to injury and was third on the team with 66 tackles.
Other options include junior Nebraska-Kearney transfer Heamasi Latu, III, as well as sophomores Xavier Harrell, Dylan Soule, and Saxon Wright. The latter three all saw action in the majority of games last fall.
Cornerback Bobby Peele and safety Brendan Brehmer are two “super senior” defensive backs who opted for a fifth season of eligibility after Covid waivers were granted. Peele will miss the spring but will return in the fall, while Brehmer will take part in spring drills.
After those two, the backfield is deep with playmakers. Harvey Reynolds is a fourth-year junior who got on the field as a true freshman in 2019. Junior Jahvonte Hair is another top candidate after a breakout sophomore season. Sophomores Byron Kynard and Braden Sandersfeld look to contribute at defensive back after standing out on special teams last fall. Redshirt freshmen Josh Sink and Dax Yeradi are two top redshirt freshmen who lost last season to injury, and Sutton Pohlman took a redshirt in 2021.
As for special teams, senior Gunnar Jones will reprise his role as kicker and punter, while Musa and Cox are the favorites to return kicks and punts.
Newly hired special teams coordinator Wes Coomes said he’s still learning some of the names on his squad, and that his scheming will come later in the three-week period.
The team will practice three times a week in April, through the 22nd, until the spring intrasquad scrimmage on the 23rd.