By CON MARSHALL Star-Herald
With northwesterly winds blowing at least 45 miles per hour gusting into the 1950s, the Chadron State College football team skipped their scheduled practice Wednesday, hoping better weather is in store. road.
The Eagles were in full paddock for the first time a week ago today. Defensive coordinator Clint Sasse said it was fun to “see everyone running around and having fun.” The team will work to make up for lost time next week while preparing for the spring game, which is Saturday, April 23 at 10 a.m.
“We have a lot of young faces,” head coach Jay Long said last week. “We have a lot of work to do, and we have a lot of guys who really need to develop this spring.”
The good news is that nearly everyone who gained playing time last fall and is still eligible is on the 2022 roster. However, the departure of 16 seniors, almost all of them loyalists, means there are a request for help in several positions.
That includes quarterback where five-year-old starter Dalton Holst, the Eagles’ career passer, completed 882 passes for 11,536 yards and 97 touchdowns.
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There are at least three primary candidates to replace him. One of them is fellow Gillette, Wyo. native Mason Hamilton, who was picked twice by Casper Star-Tribune Super 25 while playing at Thunder Basin High. He will be in second this fall. He closed out a few games last season and completed 8 of 16 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
Heath Beemiller, a transfer from Northern Arizona University in the Big Sky Conference, is also very present. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound native of Chandler, Arizona spent four years at his old school and has two more to go. He didn’t get much playing time with the Lumberjacks, but earned academic honors from all conferences.
Also in the fray is redshirt freshman Preston Pearson, a Kearney High product who was a 2020 Lincoln Journal-Star Class A Super All-Stater.
“The quarterback situation is extremely competitive,” said Micah Smith, the team’s offensive coordinator. “We have three guys getting equal reps, and we’re grading one practice at a time so we know what we have at the end.”
Smith added that three quarterbacks like to run, so offense will likely take on a new dimension this year.
Sophomore Jeydon Cox, of Jackson, Wyo., returns as the top runner last fall. He’s averaged 5.8 yards on 170 carries in 15 games over the past two years. Behind him are two bigger fullbacks who were impressive as freshmen last fall. They are Floridian Dorian Collier and Brock Ping of Billings, Mont. Both averaged over five yards per run when they debuted.
Redshirt Rylan Aguallo, who averaged 8.2 yards per carry while rushing for 1,945 yards for the Mitchell Tigers as a senior in 2020, is also bidding for playing time.
Although stars Cole Thurness and Chad Mikelson, who combined to catch 88 passes for 1,121 yards and 14 touchdowns last fall, have graduated, the CSC is returning a group of experienced receivers, including senior Montel Gladney, the juniors Ali Musa and Ahlonte Hair and sophomores Jamal Browder and Peter Krohn, a tight end. Each had at least 160 receiving yards and they combined for eight touchdowns last fall.
Along the offensive line, CSC must replace All-American tackle Justin Calderon as well as starting guards Jake Norris and Austin Rapp. Juan Estrada-Sanchez, an all-RMAC first-team pick last fall, is expected to move from right tackle to left tackle, where Calderon played.
Michael DeCamillis, holder for two years at the center, is very popular. Paxton’s senior Emmit Rosentrater is back for a ‘Covid’ season and will likely get a starting nod, but Long, who is in charge of the offensive front, admits he’s been doing a lot of research and teaching this spring .
Defensively, the Eagles will keep things simple this spring and look to emerge playmakers.
“We focus on fast play,” Sasse said. “We are looking for aggression and we want to play without thinking too much. We need to find players who study the game and have a high football IQ.”
In the front trenches, veterans – Gabe Perkins, Rich Harris and Trevon Smith – who all saw their playing time extended in 2021, are missing spring drills while recovering from injuries. Fortunately, the Eagles have some depth in the defensive line.
Senior Tayven Bray, junior Kobe Whipple, sophomores Kien Martin and Hunter O’Connor and redshirt rookie Tanner True are expected to be part of the rotation.
Three linebackers — Noah Kerchal, Jeremiah Makahununiu and Travis Wilson — graduated with a total of 196 tackles last season, setting the stage for plenty of competition at the position. Fortunately, several young players showed promise while seeing considerable backup duty last fall.
The leader is Casper’s budding junior star Joey Geil. He was thrust into the starting lineup when Makahununiu suffered an injury mid-season and has been the team’s leading tackler in each of the last six games.
Other possibilities include Nebraska-Kearney transfer Heamasi Latu III, as well as sophomores Xavier Harrell and Saxon Wright, all of whom have seen the two special teams duty and help relieve starters. Other prospects include transfer in 2021, Garrett Wilson and Dylan Soule, who will also throw the javelin for the CSC track team this spring.
Cornerback Bobby Peele and safety Brendan Brehmer are two “super senior” defensive backs who opted to use their final year of eligibility this fall after Covid waivers were granted. Peele, who has intercepted 10 passes in 14 games for the Eagles over the past two years, is not on campus this spring but plans to return in the fall. Brehmer, the fiery Alliance product who took part in 55 tackles last fall, served as team leader during the early spring drills.
After those two, the backfield seems to have more playmakers. Harvey Reynolds is a junior who has been outstanding on special teams, and Jahvonte Hair had two choices after taking over as the starter at the end of last season.
Sophomores BJ Kynard and Braden Sandersfeld should see more action after playing big special teams as rookies. Redshirt freshmen Josh Sink and Dax Yeradi were sidelined by injuries last fall but have played this spring.
As for special teams, senior Gunnar Jones returns as the leading scorer and placekicker after averaging 41.4 yards on 41 punts and was the Eagles’ leading scorer with 66 points last fall all by scoring 42 extra points and eight field goals.
Con Marshall contributed to this story.