By: Con Marshall
CSC Sports Information
The first one-third of the preseason practices for the Chadron State College football team received high marks from Head Coach Jay Long during an interview over the weekend.
"We thought things went really well. Through Saturday, we'd had eight of the 25 practices we're allowed during fall camp," Long said. "One of our main goals was teaching the freshmen how to become Eagles and always play hard. That seems to be happening. We also stressed the fundamentals and worked on our schemes to help the veterans be ready to play when the season kicks off."
The season opener will be Saturday, Sept. 7 at Black Hills State in Spearfish. On Monday, the Eagles began focusing on the game plan they'll use against the Yellow Jackets.
With veterans returning at all of the offensive skill positions, much of Long's attention has been devoted to rebuilding the offensive line, the phase of the game that he's in charge of anyway.
Long's task has not been an easy one, but he and his primary line assistant, former starting center Jake Geil, have been striving to identify "the best five guys" to make up this year's starting unit while also keeping an eye on a host of other promising candidates.
They're a tall bunch. A dozen of them average nearly 6-foot-4 and over 280 pounds. None of them are what could be termed "overweight."
The Eagles are having to redesign the line because three of last year's starters up front, including Geil, were seniors and Austin Rapp, who started at left guard as a redshirt freshman, is still recovering from neck surgery and hasn't participated in the preseason drills.
While the evaluation will continue, Long decided last week to move the only returning starter, senior Jared Maciejczak, from tackle to center.
Beginning as an eighth grader, Maciejczak started in the line for five years at Douglas High School near Rapid City, and has started at right tackle for the Eagles the past two years. He's performed well and is considered a leading all-conference candidate for this fall.
Maciejczak spent most of the 2019 spring drills at left tackle, also known as the "blind side," and generally considered the more crucial position in the line. That's where Travis Romsa, a first-team all-conference choice as both a sophomore and a senior, played the last three seasons before graduating.
But over the summer, the Eagles landed Justin Calderon, a junior who had earned all-star honors last year while playing left tackle at Nassau Community College in New York. Long said Calderon, who is 6-4, 285 pounds, has lived up to his advanced billing, and is the Eagles' likely starter there. The fact that he's been a starter on a good team (8-3 last year) is a bonus.
Long said early workouts also determined that Juan Estrada, a 6-5, 273-pound redshirt freshman from Lincoln High in Denver, is "ready to play right tackle," making it possible to switch Maciejczak to center.
"He's our most experienced player, therefore knows our system the best and he will make the line calls from the center spot," Long said of "Little Magic," who is 6-5, 295, and the son of Dan (Magic) Maciejczak. His dad was a three-time unanimous first-team all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference choice and a consensus All-American his senior year while playing center for the Eagles in the early 1990s.
The probable starters at the guards are Marvin Williams, 6-4, 315-pound senior from Los Angeles, and Jake Norris, a 6-6, 300-pound junior from Fort Morgan, Colo.
Williams transferred to CSC a year ago and shared playing time in the defensive line last fall, but switched to offense in the spring. Long said he's strong and aggressive.
The coach said he's proud of Norris because "he's worked his tail off in the weight room" to get stronger and nail down a starting nod.
Long emphasized that the five probable starters aren't the only high quality offensive linemen on the team. Lack of depth should not be a problem for the Eagles in either of the trenches.
Senior Colton Horn, 6-3, 265 from Shoshone, Idaho, and Michael DeCamillis, 6-3, 260, redshirt freshman from Broomfield, Colo., get high marks, as do four players named Sam.
That quartet is made up of junior letterman Sam McKinley, a 6-3, 285-pounder from Rampart High in Colorado Springs; and redshirt freshmen Sam Cafferty, 6-4, 275, from Kuna, Idaho; Sam Reed, 6-1, 260, from Widefield High in Colorado Springs; and Sam Rischling, 6-3, 250, from Chadron.
Other young lineman with lots of potential, Long said, include Trent Grizzle, 6-3, 275, all-stater from Fairbury, NE; Alex Ross, 6-2, 255, Gardena, Calif., and the tallest of them all and the one from the farthest away, Aksel Turk, 6-7, 260, a Norway native by way of Mercer Island, Wash., where he graduated from high school. All three are redshirt freshmen.
The list of candidates also includes junior Jon Hansen, a graduate of St. Thomas More in Rapid City and a high honor student at Chadron State. He's the only offensive lineman under 6-foot tall, but knows the system well and could get some playing time.
Just as Long has done in the offensive line, Defensive Coordinator Craig (Jersey) Jersild and his coaching partners have been seeking a "top five" to man the Eagles' secondary. He's got a mix of veterans, budding sophomores and redshirt freshmen and several transfers to choose from.
A trio of seniors who played nearly fulltime last year--cornerbacks DeAndre Barthwell and DeMetrius McFadden and safety Tyree Fryar--have been getting high marks. So has sophomore Brendan Brehmer of Alliance, who in Jersild's words, "has made a big jump this fall."
Jersild also said that Ju'Wan Murphy, a senior transfer from Humboldt State, has exceptional speed and outstanding coverage skills. "He'll be a big help," the coach stated.
Jersild also said players such as Gordon product Micah Scherbarth, sophomore Bryan Sanchez of Bear Creek High in Lakewood, Colo., and transfer Jeremiah Gutierrez of Compton, Calif., "will be on the field a lot."
"This coming week will help us get things more stabilized," he noted.
The past week had its dark moments for the CSC secondary. Two top young players, Dylan Marsh (knee) and Jaxon King (thumb) suffered injuries that are expected to sideline them for the season. Both also missed last season because of injuries.