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Eagles eager to open season Saturday
COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Eagles eager to open season Saturday

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Chadron State Head Coach Jay Long speaks to the Eagles prior to the start of a recent practice. The Eagles open Saturday at Colorado Mesa.

After many weeks of deliberation and consultation, the Chadron State College football team is due to open its season on Saturday against Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction. Kickoff is set for noon

The game is the first of six the Eagles have scheduled for this fall. The next two, against South Dakota Mines on Oct. 17 and Black Hills State on Oct. 24, will be at CSC’s Elliott Field, while the remaining three will be on the road. One of them will be against long-time rival Nebraska-Kearney.

“We’re anxious to play,” Chadron State Head Coach Jay Long said. “We’ve been practicing for at least four weeks and we’re ready to go against somebody else. We’re glad to have this opportunity and want to make the most of it.”

With the Covid-19 Pandemic wiping out spring sports at all levels worldwide beginning in March and then interrupting or delaying even professional sports well into the summer, no one could predict what would happen this fall. But at least 50 Chadron State players spent much of the summer in Chadron, lifting weights and working out on their own several times a week with hopes they’d get to play this fall.

Those hopes ebbed and flowed with the NCAA and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference presidents’ council also involved in trying to decide what was best for the health of the populace, the athletes and the athletic programs.

About 120 players are on the roster. They include a dozen returning starters, 26 more lettermen, 15 who were redshirt freshmen last fall but didn’t play, 10 transfers and nearly 40 freshmen.

The offense features Dalton Holst, the Eagles’ starting quarterback the past three years. He ranks with the best in Division II after throwing for 8,000 yards and 69 touchdowns, including 33 last year to set the school record.

Entering his ninth season as the Eagles’ head coach, Long believes this year’s offensive line will be a positive force. They are tackles Justin Calderon and Juan Estrada-Sanchez, guards Austin Rapp and Jake Norris and center Michael DeCamillis. All started at least part-time a year ago, when the Eagles averaged 458 yards in total offense and 37 points a game, both second best in the conference.

Tevon Wright, who caught 74 passes for 1,146 yards and a CSC all-time high 16 touchdowns last fall, graduated. Junior Chad Mikelson and numerous promising youngsters, including Wright’s brother, Jahani, along with Jalon’e Rice, Montel Gladney and Ethan Fray, will try to take up the slack.

Running back is another position with interesting possibilities. Elijah Myles, who ran for 1,077 yards and 12 TDs as a sophomore last season, didn’t return this semester because of the virus uncertainty, but plans to continue his career at CSC when conditions improve.

Myles’ replacements range from Jalen Starks, a 6-foot, 245-pound transfer from UCLA, where he once rumbled 50 yards with a pass reception, to Jeydon Cox, a 5-8, 160 freshman from Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he rushed for more than 2,000 yards as both a junior and a senior.

The Eagles also will be a mix of mix of veterans and newcomers on defense.

The line leaders include senior Brandon Hopkins, who is 6-4, 300 after adding 20 pounds. Others up front will include sophomores Kail Juelfs, 5-10, 240, and Kobe Whipple, 6-1, 294, and redshirt freshman Trevon Smith, 6-1, 320.

The linebackers will feature senior Travis Wilson, the RMAC leader in tackles last season with 124. He’ll be joined by rising standout Noah Kerchel, who took part in 74 tackles, including 13 behind the line of scrimmage last fall, and Jeremiah Makahununiu, a transfer from St. Cloud State in Minnesota. Special teams playmaker Bryant Wilson of Alliance and Joey Geil, who is among the players Jersild says “gets better every day,” will provide depth.

Ju’Wan Murphy and Bobby Peele, both highly regarded transfers, are expected to hold down the cornerback slots while Brenden Brehmer, Cole Condon and Jeremiah Gutierrez are the likely leaders at safety.

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