The Perfect Game.
That’s what USD junior linebacker/defensive end Darin Greenfield said the Coyote football team strives for this training camp.
“We’re working for that one game where eleven guys do their jobs every play for the whole game,” Greenfield said. “As soon as we get that perfect game, it’s gonna be huge for us.”
USD comes off an 8-5 (4-4 CONF) 2017 season, reaching the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs in a 42-54 shootout loss to Sam Houston State, a vast improvement from a 4-7 season in 2016.
Entering his third season as head coach, Bob Nielson said last year’s success has driven players to chase a championship.
“Building on last year has been the goal since day one of training camp,” Nielson said. “We have a lot of guys now that understand what it takes to get to the national playoffs and how to progress our program.”
Notching their first winning season since 2011 and peaking at #4 in FCS rankings Week 6 of 2017, USD football is morphing into a Missouri Valley Conference (MVFC) powerhouse, shifting the team’s objectives.
“One of the things we focused on the last few years was changing our culture,” Greenfield said. “Now that we’re where we need to be, coaches say we can’t be complacent. [This training camp], we focused on fundamentals more than anything, breaking down our movements: hands, eyes, feet, all moving at once. Get those right and everything starts coming together.”
Leading the Coyote defense with nine sacks and 19.5 Tackles for Loss (1st in MVFC), Greenfield enters the 2018 season as a member of the MVFC preseason all-defensive team.
On Football Media Day earlier this month, Nielson said this year’s team is “about as young a team as I’ve ever worked with”, noting only 25 of 107 players are upperclassmen.
“Fortunately, within that young group, we have some guys that have played and have experience,” Nielson said. “From a coaching standpoint, that’s what preseason camp is all about: developing younger guys into those depth positions.”
Senior cornerback Isaac Armstead said that development is crucial when preparing young players for real minutes on the field.
“Usually you don’t see freshman on the field too early, and it’s interesting to see them react to ‘Hey, come September first, you’ll be playing’,” Armstead said. “Seeing them play and getting them up to speed has been one of our biggest emphases for sure.”
Aug. 14th, Nielson announced last year’s lead running back Michael Frederick, now a senior, moved to cornerback, joining Armstead and sophomore Mark Collins Jr. on wideout patrol.
Frederick’s move will bolster the defensive backfield and allow young running backs such as sophomores Kai Henry, Ethan Falaniko, and Ben Klett more touches throughout the season, Greenfield said.
“Mike [Frederick] is an unbelievable athlete and just three practices in he’s been doing really well,” Greenfield said. “Give him another week to figure out defensive schemes and stuff like that, and he’s going to be really good for us defensively.”
The most surveilled change, however, is junior Austin Simmons’ takeover at quarterback, after Chris Streveler led an offense ranked first in total yards in the MVFC before his departure.
“Strev and I do a lot of similar things, but there’s differences also,” Simmons said. “Strev was a great runner, so he incorporated that into his style of play. I’ll run the ball a little bit too, but maybe not as much as him.”
Simmons ended the 2017 season with 410 passing yards and four touchdowns, throwing 38 times and completing 17 of them, according to GoYotes. Two of those touchdowns came week nine in a 42-0 win against Southern Illinois, where Streveler left the field with a leg injury in the first series of the game.
“Austin [Simmons] is highly skilled, and it’s just a matter of him gaining in-game experience,” Nielson said during Media Day. “He’s the only undefeated quarterback in the MVFC — He basically started three games and he’s 3-0.”
“His strength is his ability to throw the football,” Nielson said. “He can throw as well as anyone that I’ve worked within 25 years. Our guys have a lot of confidence in him.”
The Coyotes commence their search for the Perfect Game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas, and return to Vermillion Sept. 8 for their home opener against Northern Colorado.