The first Missouri Valley Football Conference teleconference took place on Monday morning. It’s pretty much a howdy-do deal with coaches going over what they have coming back, unit by unit, with possible mention of some of the new guys.
Tyler Starr was the only player named to the preseason all-conference team and the Coyotes were picked to finish 10th in the conference.
Getting picked to finish last may seem unsettling to some of the staff and the players but it should not come as any surprise that it worked out that way. Coming off a winless season in the conference, there is no way the people who vote are going to look at the team on paper and pick them to finish fifth in league where the top half is going to begin the season ranked in the top 25.
It may end up being a rallying point for the team, especially if it’s clear early in the season that they’re a much better than a year ago, but I’m always skeptical of such talk.
A year ago USD was picked to finish eighth and I expect many on the team figured that was a slight directed at the new kid on the block. It didn’t work as a motivational tool because the USD offensive line was young, the quarterback was unproven and the defensive line was overmatched physically. If a preseason poll works as a motivational tool this year it will be because the offensive line is older and bigger, the quarterback is more experienced and the defensive line is more physical. It won’t be because some underpaid, overworked and slovenly dressed sportswriters voted them last in the conference.
OK, I transcribed Joe Glenn’s time on the teleconference and here’s what he said:
Tyler Starr is our top football player. He’s a terrific athlete and he’s at 245 pounds right now. He can play the game and probably should play the game at the next level. We’re looking forward to him having a great season for us. We started a true freshman last year opposite him. Keyen Lage had a really good year. Those two guys give us pretty good strength defensively at linebacker.
We have four starters coming back on the defensive front. Drew Iddings would have been a starter last year but was injured…. Emilious Davis is back at 270, Nick Jacobs is at 285 and Kenny Greer at 300. We have some guys who can hang a little bit in this league. Both our safeties return in Devin Taverna and Aaron Swift. Corner is somewhat of a question mark. We got an Arizona State transfer in Jarrid Bryant that I’m hoping can help us.
Auston Johnson is a junior college linebacker and Kyle Staples a junior college linebacker. Both look to be the part in the weight room and conditioning. We have high hopes that they will shore up our inside linebacking position.
On freshman punter/kicker Miles Bergner:
You worry about counting on a freshman but I’ve seen him punt and seen him kick and we think he can impact our team on special teams.
On the offense:
We had one returner in the offensive line and it showed. We all know how hard it is – you need experience in the offensive line. This year we have six returners up front. The most growth in size and strength has come from our offensive line in the offseason.
Derek Chancellor made a freshman All-America team. Mark Murtha sat out after his injury and he’s back as a senior. …. We needed birthdays upfront and those guys all got a year under their belt. They’re all 300 or better and they look the part. Hopefully we’ll be much better upfront. Tyler Wilhelm is a returning starter at tight end. I hope we’re better up front and I think we will be much improved.
On quarterback Josh Vander Maten:
He’s been tearing the weight room up. He’s the strongest quarterback we’ve ever had here. He’s run under 4.4 on the turf, he’s done the standing broad jump 10 and a half feet – those types of things. He’s a terrific athlete, a great leader and he has a year under his belt. We all know how much that means at the quarterback position.
At running back:
It’s going to be a little bit by committee. A returning part-time starter Jasper Sanders has a cast from an accident on his wrist. We just don’t know where he’ll be at. Doctors who are putting pins in and those things are pretty hard to talk into putting a kid on the playing field. If he doesn’t play we’ll go with our two redshirt freshmen that were on our scout teams last year. Jordan Roberts was the player of the year in Wyoming and Trevor Bouma led the state of Iowa in rushing as a senior. Between the two of them their senior years they rushed for 6,000 yards and 80 touchdowns. They look like bookends, they’re both 5-11 and 215 pounds and somewhere around 4.6 . They bring a real toughness to our running game in the spring and I really look forward to them helping us become a tougher football team offensively.
Jordon Roberts and Trevor Bouma are names who, in time, you’ll know about.
… Terrance (Terry) is a really good receiver. Other than that we got young guys. Austin Koch will be a senior as well but he had a hamstring injury that hampered him all season long a year ago. He’s healthy and we’re really hoping we get some help from him. We have some young redshirted receivers that look the part, but we have to see how they come through fall camp.
It’s all about getting better, we know that. We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward. It’s about getting better every day – that’s what we’re looking for – just keep improving.
On ways the Coyotes have improved since last year:
Mostly it’s just birthdays. More than anything, we played a lot of young guys and you pay for experience. We had a lot of guys who hadn’t played a lot of college football at quarterback and on the offensive line and in the secondary. You just hope having played a season now we’ll be better basically because of our experience. We had four games we lost by three points. They’re very competitive kids and they never laid down. We had another game we lost by seven so that’s five league games within a touchdown. If we can get better a little bit and keep taking steps forward, we’ll try and overcome that. Experience was a huge factor and we have a lot more experience coming back this year than a year ago and I’m hoping that will help pay dividends on the scoreboard.
On going through the league a second time:
We know and understand how good the league is. We can’t control any of that. But what we can do is find out exactly what’s best for us in this league as far as what we do on defense and what kind of offense we run. … We’re trying to build our defense around the better players we have and the same way on offense. We’re going to try to find a way to feature the athletes that we have. I mentioned the running backs – I really do think in time that you will be impressed with how tough these two guys are. This game is all about toughness and both these guys got it. I really think Josh Vander Maten is a guy that we need to exploit a little bit more. …. It’s just finding out who your best athletes are and how best they can help your team and that’s where we’re going.
On having a tougher team:
You don’t teach people to be tougher, it’s just the people you have on the field. These two young guys (the running backs)..in spring ball you saw how physical and tough they are. It’s part of the game. They know how to play it. Certain people can bring a toughness. Tyler Starr is a tough guy. Keyen Lage is a tough guy and Keyen has a year experience. Drew Iddings is a tough guy. Auston Johnson we think will bring a real toughness to our defense. He was a very successful junior college linebacker in California and a real good get for us. He’s 240 pounds and he runs well….We all know it’s a tough game and you need tough people. I think when the going gets tough at the end of those games, the physicality of the good teams in this league won. So we’re working harder at being a little stronger, a little more physical and a little tougher and hopefully get us over the hump in some close games.
We need to be a better disciplined football team. There is no question about it. It’s a mental thing and a confidence thing and I think the more you play the game, the more experience you have, the better you become at discipline. That is an area we have to improve there is no question we’ll work on that as hard as we can. Through spring ball we did a much better job with our pre-snap penalties being way down in practice. I think a lot is just confidence and a lot is having a year under your belt in every line position. It’s being a smarter, more educated veteran football team that helps you as far as penalties and those types of things.
On being picked to finish last:
We all know what it means, the preseason stuff. It’s an opinion and we all know about opinions. It’s why we play the games. I recall being the coach at Montana where they had us picked dead last in the Big Sky Conference and we were the conference champions at the end of the year. I don’t put a lot into it. I know there are good football teams in this league. You could put about any team in that top spot. How can you pick Illinois State where they’re at? That’s a strong football team with terrific athletes.
We have a chip on our shoulder. That’s the way you have to practice and the way you have to prepare. We take it personal. I understand that you have to rank teams. You media guys are trying to sell tickets and get something to write about in the newspapers. But very honestly, we don’t think we’re going to lose every game in the conference again — but you have to take them one at a time. We’re doing everything we can to be the best team we can be on August 31st against Cal Davis. That’s what we’re focusing on right now and just trying to get ourselves better for conference play. It’s an opinion poll — heavy on the opinion.