With the Badlands Activities Center turf finally free from the clutches of winter, the Dickinson State football team held its first of 10 spring practices on Wednesday.
While the Blue Hawks bring back quite a few starters on offense, the team has a ton of questions as it heads into its final season in the soon-to-be four-team Dakota Athletic Conference. DSU looks like it might, key word, have enough talent coming back to contend for a fourth consecutive conference championship â€” especially considering it has to do so by playing Jamestown College, Valley City State and Mayville State twice each.
The biggest position to watch is, of course, quarterback. Two-time all-DAC QB Cody Holland is gone and the only signal-caller on DSUâ€™s roster with experience is senior Dave Velasquez, who played more at tailback in the final two games last season than he has at quarterback in his entire career.
In his career, Velasquez is 8 of 16 for 63 yards and two interceptions. Heâ€™s a 6-foot-1, 215-pound run-first quarterback who might be better suited at running back. If he stays at quarterback, thereâ€™s a good chance coach Hank Biesiot goes back to the old days of the option.
The only one behind Velasquez on the depth chart is redshirt freshman Matt Harkless, a 5-11, 180-pound speedster who was the scout team QB last fall. DSU is bringing in Wyoming all-state QB Thad Lane in the fall and Biesiot said theyâ€™re not even close to being done recruiting the position.
Could we seen another Brandon Bishop-Parise type of situation, where DSU finds a diamond in the rough in the middle of summer? Possibly. If not, this spot almost definitely belongs to Dave.
Quarterback isnâ€™t the only position with questions though. Other areas of concern include:
â€” The entire secondary: Sean Russell is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield that loses All-America cornerback Derion Williams, all-DAC cornerback Dakota Holland, two-year starting safety Jamie Sigl and do-it-all safety Trevor Willis, whose football career has been cut short because of concussions. However, this is a spot where the Blue Hawks have options. Russell led the team with 78 tackles and had three interceptions last season. Junior Mike Fisher has been the teamâ€™s nickelback the past two years and made 41 tackles and a pick last season. Sophomores Tyler Lalim and Nolan Schwartz played in every game while making big strides in backup roles. The biggest additions, however, could be redshirt freshmen Bo Brooks and David Stewart. Brooks emerged as one of the teamâ€™s best redshirts last fall and probably would have played had DSU not been stacked in the secondary.
â€” Tight end: No one can replace All-America tight end Derek Pauley, but Nate Zachmann, Brandon Angell and Brock Overbo are sure as heck going to try. Since heâ€™s been Pauleyâ€™s backup for two seasons, Zachmann is the clear front-runner for the position that is very critical to DSUâ€™s offensive scheme. The dark horse candidate is true freshman Chris Kurkowski from Miles City, Mont. Kurkowskiâ€™s 6-3, 240 pounds, but Biesiot doesnâ€™t know which side of the ball he will end up on. He very well could end up on the defensive line while making cameos at TE, ala Luke Steiner.
â€” Defensive line: This part of the team is like a hockey team where the second line last season becomes the first line this season. Sophomore Colton Hill and junior Heath Hafner are going to get the first looks here along with Sam Herauf, who will likely be listed as a freshman for the third straight season after injuring his knee between the first and second game. He should be able to get a medical redshirt.
â€” Long snapper: Yes, long snapper. Luke Leno manned the position about as well as anyone could have asked for four years. He had one flubbed snap (which I blame on myself because it happened the day I wrote a feature on him stating the fact that heâ€™d never misfired a snap in his career). Fullback Jackson Wandler was a long snapper in high school and is pretty solid, so look for him to move into this spot.
â€” Return specialist: THIS is the place where DSU is going to miss Derion Williams. The all-time school record-holder for return yards fielded around 90 percent of the kicks and punts for the Blue Hawks the past four seasons. Dakota Holland was the teamâ€™s other primary returner last year and heâ€™s gone too. So who steps up here? Youâ€™re guess is as good as mine. Running back-turned-receiver Presley Straub might be a good fit, as well as defensive back Mike Fisher, receiver Jimmy Smith or one of the backup running backs.
Below is the teamâ€™s potential starting lineup coming into spring. Now these are of my own design, based on who is coming back. Returning starters are in bold. After the guys penciled in on the first team, there is a whole lot of questions.
QB Dave Velasquez, Sr.
RB Brennan Haughian, So.
FB Tyler Grosz, Sr.
WR Tanner Leak, Jr.
WR Jimmy Smith, So.
TE Nate Zachmann, Jr.
RT Carl Dynnesson, Jr.
RG Kyle Enebo, Jr.
CÂ Doug Staley, Jr. / Jerome Hoffman, Jr.
LG Ry O’Connor, Jr.
LT Ryan Payne, So. / Luke Runyon, Jr.
DTÂ Sam Herauf, R-Fr. (medical redshirt)
NGÂ Colton Hill, So.
DTÂ Heath Hafner, Jr.
OLB Zach McCoy, Jr. / Matt Seibert, Jr.
ILB Jay Grosz, Jr. / Nic Nicastro, Sr.
ILB Tyler Schmidkunz, Sr.
OLB Jerel Hafner, Sr.
CBÂ Bo Brooks, R-Fr.
CBÂ Mike Fisher, Jr.
FSÂ Sean Russell, Sr.
SSÂ Tyler Lalim, So.
KÂ Tury Escobedo, Sr. / Cole Zamira, Sr.
PÂ Sean Russell, Sr.
LSÂ Jackson Wandler