Spring football: USD Coyotes hitting the field with positivity amid offensive changes
Coyotes ready to move forward after disappointing 2022 season
VERMILLION — The Coyote football team was nearing the end of what had been a long but energetic and productive practice on Saturday when the familiar blare of the whisle rang out in the DakotaDome, and USD head coach Bob Nielson told his players to line up on the goal line.
Everyone knows what that means. Conditioning. Running — and probably lots of it. Nielson then began giving the players instructions on the running drill — which position groups would go first, how far to run, when to come back, when to rotate groups, etc., etc.
Then, as the players took deep breaths to prepare themselves, Nielson, already walking away towards the center of the field, turned back towards them and said, "One more thing ... April Fool's!"
It took a second for the players to realize the joke was serious, and then they roared their approval and raced to midfield as a group to meet their coach.
Nielson seemed rightfully pleased with himself when asked about it moments later.
"How often do you get to have practice on April Fool's Day?" Nielson chuckled. "I had to do it."
It makes sense that Nielson would want to inject his team's spring practices with some levity. USD went 3-8 last year, following up a hope-inspiring playoff season, and by year's end, morale was not great. They were playing without an offensive coordinator, Nielson's seat was getting warm, and they were blown out at home in the season finale.
But nobody's talking about that. Why bother? Everyone knows what happened. The Coyotes are moving forward and keeping their eyes pointed in the same direction, and part of that equation means getting back to enjoying what they're doing, and enjoying each other.
"That's what you have to do," said quarterback Aidan Bouman, who threw for 772 yards and seven touchdowns in four games last season. "Last year, we had the season we had. We have a chip on our shoulder because of that. But you also have to move on to the future and I think everybody has that mindset right now. There's a lot of optimism."
None of that means the Yotes aren't getting down to business. USD is essentially starting over on offense, so they're moving quickly to come together on that side of the ball. Former South Dakota State receivers coach Josh Davis is the new offensive coordinator, and he's already receiving high marks from Nielson and the players. Former University of Mary head coach Craig Bagnell is the new receivers coach, while Jeff Nady (offensive line) and Tim Morrison (tight ends) are also new to the staff, and Davis has been given full authority to reshape the offense as he sees fit.
"We're making progress every day," Nielson said. "Josh has hit the ground running. We hired him because we knew he could do a great job. He's taken all the leadership there. I give him input when I feel like I need to or he asks for it, but it's his offensive system and we've got a really good staff. He's done a really good job of getting that group to collaborate. We feel really good about what we're doing."
Indeed, Davis has made a strong first impression on the Coyote players, who are well aware of the fact he just helped coach the rival Jackrabbits to a national championship.
"Josh has been awesome," Bouman said. "He works with what you have, which is what the best coaches are going to do. He's going to tailor things to what we do well, and we've got a lot of weapons to work with so that's exciting."
Though he played and coached receiver at SDSU, Davis will serve as quarterbacks coach for the Coyotes, giving him a chance to work closely with Bouman, who will be one of the biggest keys to USD's 2023 season. A transfer from Iowa State, Bouman unseated Carson Camp as USD starter midway through last season and showed promise in his four-game stint running the show. He was doing that without having a true offensive coordinator (Nielson was serving in the role after the program parted ways with Ted Schlafke) or much time to learn the offense. So Bouman is putting in work this spring to go into the summer and fall with a full grasp of the schemes and a more prominent role as a leader of the offense and team at large.
"I want to keep building that trust and chemistry with my guys," Bouman said. "I want to establish myself as a leader on this team. And we have a new offense, too, so being able to hone in on that and be able to help other guys do the same is a big part of that leadership. To me, being a leader is the most important part of being a quarterback. I was able to establish that a little bit last year but I'm gonna try to keep building that even more as we move forward."