Kaleb Center, Sports Information Director
CHADRON – With lots of holes to fill on defense, but most of the starters from a year ago returning on offense, the Chadron State College football team will open its spring drills on Monday, March 26.
The Eagles finished the 2017 season with a 6-5 record and were 6-4 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Besides trying to fill vacancies in the starting lineup left by last year’s seniors, the coaches will be striving to get last fall’s freshmen who redshirted, and others who have seen limited playing time, ready for prime time action this coming season.
All but two starters, tailback Derek Jackson and guard Matt Barden, are available again on offense, but five of the six primary defensive linemen and four regulars in the secondary have expended their eligibility.
Chadron State Head Football Coach Jay Long said nearly 90 players are expected to participate in the spring drills. Practices will take place each Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, unless the weather interferes. The spring game is set for Saturday, April 21.
The spring roster includes nearly 40 lettermen about evenly divided between offense and defense. Punter Zack Kozlik and placekicker Will Morgan also return.
Long said the only position change planned now will find junior-to-be Stevann Brown returning to running back. One of the fastest and shiftiest players on the team, Brown also played there as a redshirt freshman in 2016, but switched to wide receiver last year.
Brown had both a 75-yard pass reception and a 95-yard kickoff return for touchdowns last fall.
With Jackson, last year’s leading rusher with 1,058 yards, graduating this spring and a long list of promising young receivers, it was decided to move Brown back to his original position.
The coaches also will try to get another speedster, Priest Jennings, back on track at tailback. He carried the ball just 31 times last fall after being injured early in the season. Senior Kevin Coy opens the spring as the Eagles’ top ball carrier. He rushed 98 times for 420 yards and scored six touchdowns last fall.
Chadron State coaches felt they had a future all-star running back in the fold when they signed Scottsbluff standout Brad Johnston in 2016, but a sports hernia has caused him to discontinue playing football.
Dalton Holst, who as a redshirt freshman last fall started all 11 games at quarterback and threw for 2,337 yards, will have an array of experienced pass receivers at his disposal, although Matt Reader is the only senior in the group.
The Eagles will also welcome the availability of quarterback T.D. Stein, who missed nearly all of the 2017 schedule because of a freak injury that occurred the previous summer.
Karson Avila and Tyler Hyland, two quarterbacks who redshirted last fall when they were freshman, also will get a chance to display their skills during the spring.
The receiving corps includes Jackson Dickerson, who caught 78 passes last fall, the second highest single-season total in school history, and tight end Colt Foster, who had 42 receptions. They will be juniors this fall, along with Brandon Fullerton and Tevon Wright, both of whom had 22 receptions.
The Eagles will miss Barden, a three-year starter, but are glad the others who formed the forward wall for at least 90 percent of the snaps last season, are returning. They are seniors Adam Fuselier, Jake Geil and Travis Romsa along with junior Jared Maciejczak.
The defense will require lots of retooling, but the team’s top three linebackers, Keenan Johnson, Merritt Crabtree and Tyler Lewis, are returning to fortify that position.
Other defenders who started or were in the regular rotations are end Kyle Temple, cornerbacks DeAndre Barthwell and Chris Harris and safeties Zech James and Demetrius McFadden.
Three transfers will be among the defenders trying to help fill positions vacated by last year’s seniors.