CHADRON, Neb. — August 31, 2018 — The first game of the season always provides extra excitement no matter what the sport. For the Chadron State football team, things will be even more fervent during its opener Saturday night when the Eagles host Black Hills State.
That’s because the sparkling new stadium, press box and field that has been covered with a bright green synthetic turf will be invailed. A huge crowd is anticipated, particularly since Spearfish, home of Black Hills State, is only 140 miles from Chadron. Kickoff will be at 6:30.
CSC head coach Jay Long said he knows the atmosphere will be vibrant and he may need to caution his players to cool their jets a bit and make sure they focus on football, not the splashy surroundings or hoopla from the crowd.
“We can’t be so high that we forget about our main task, which is to follow our game plan and play Eagle football,” Long noted. “We’ve had a really good fall camp, haven’t had any significant injuries, appear to have excellent depth and are anxious to start playing.”
After graduating just two offensive starters last fall, that unit will be asked to provide the leadership during the early-season games while the young defense gets its bearings. The offensive returnees include seniors Adam Fuselier, Jake Geil and Travis Romsa in the line and all of last year’s receivers.
The Eagles’ only first-time starter on offense will be redshirt freshman Austin Rapp of Moville, Iowa, at left guard. The son of CSC graduates, Rapp won the starting nod early in spring practice and has never flinched, Long said.
All four of the starting receivers are juniors who combined to catch 164 passes last fall. They include Chadron native Jackson Dickerson, who had 78 receptions, second-high in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, and tight end Colt Foster of Hemingford, a pre-season all-RMAC choice, along with offensive linemen Geil and Romsa, both Wyoming products, and punter Zack Kozlik.
Another busy receiver last year, Stevann Brown of Casper Natrona, has moved to tailback, where he’s expected to share playing time with senior Kevin Coy and true freshman Elijah Myles in the season opener. They’ll be striving to replace Derek Jackson, the Eagles’ Most Valuable Player and leading rusher last fall with 1,058 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Coy is a power runner who has already lugged the ball 299 times for 1,384 yards and 14 TDs during his career. Brown is quick and shifty while Myles has both size and speed.
Sophomore Dalton Holst of Gillette, Wyo., returns at quarterback after completing 200 passes for 2,337 yards, both the most ever for a first-year quarterback at Chadron State. His marquee game was against Colorado Mesa, when he completed 41 tosses for 450 yards.
The fact that Holst will be surrounded by experienced mates should help him have another solid season.
With five of the six primary linemen and four mainstays in the secondary expending their eligibility last fall, the Eagles will have numerous first-time starters on defense.
“Our defense will be young in places,” Long noted. “They’ll probably make some mistakes, but I’m confident they’re talented enough to overcome them. It will be exciting to watch them progress.”
The returnees include last year’s top three linebackers—Keenan Johnson, Tyler Lewis and Merritt Crabtree—along with seniors Kyle Temple at end and Zech James at safety. Another veteran is cornerback DeAndre Barthwell, who will be a third-year starter.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Larson said he plans to rotate at least 10 players in the four line positions and also expects to substitute quite often in the secondary. He added that transfers Travis Wilson at linebacker and Tyree Fryar and Richard Harbor in the secondary have given the Eagles a boost.
Larson figures his secondary to be thoroughly tested. He said the Yellow Jackets “take as many shots downfield as anyone in the conference.”
Graduation stripped Black Hills of considerable experience last fall. Only four players on offense and five on defense who started against the Eagles a year ago have returned. Among the missing is tailback Phydell Paris, who ran for 1,048 yards and 11 TDs in nine games.
This year’s leaders include seniors Ryan Hommel at quarterback and Drew Hebel at safety.
Hommel will be starting for the fourth straight year. He completed 178 of 349 passes for 2,186 yards last season, including 460 yards in the finale against Colorado Mines.
Hebel was the RMAC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2016 after he led the nation with nine pass interceptions.
All the other returning defensive starters are linebackers. Besides Hommel, the other offensive starters back are a tight end and two linemen.
Black Hills head coach John Reiners, a former CSC player and assistant coach, noted that while his team doesn’t have a huge number of returning starters, nearly everyone taking over those spots played part-time last year.
“We’ve got experienced players at nearly every position and our travel squad will be made up mostly of seniors, juniors or redshirt sophomores who are in the program for the third year,” Reiners said. “We’re getting more depth and experience every year.”
Reiners said junior Payten Gilmore, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, has taken over at tailback after backing Paris last season.
Starting receivers will include sophomore Dylan Reiners, the coach’s son who last fall scored on a 44-yard pass play against the Eagles.
The Eagles expect to have a strong kicking game. Kozlik averaged 41.4 yards last fall and placekicker Carson Reed, a freshman from Alaska, has been challenging Will Morgan, a two-year starter, at that positon.