Unlike what the calendar says, spring began for the Black Hills State University football team on Feb. 28.
Spring practices, that is
Black Hills State head coach John Reiners said it has been a good, productive spring.
"We've been able to get a lot accomplished," Reiners said. "There are some battles for some positions. Obviously nothing is going to be won in the spring. But you can definitely set the tone for what is going to happen going into next fall."
The NCAA added an extra week for teams to get their 15 spring practices in and the Yellow Jackets have made the best of their extra time — on and off the field.
After Thursday's afternoon practice, the Jackets are through 12 of the 15 workouts, which culminate April 13 with the annual spring game.
Reiners likes the stretched-out spring.
"I actually asked the guys how they liked the schedule, going two or three times a week, with a couple of weekends off, and they say they love it," he said. "It's good for them academically, to not cram things in and feel like they are getting undated with football. Physically, it gives them time to recuperate from practice."
With that said, Reiners said they have had some passionate energy with many of the practices, considering the Tuesday workouts begin at 5:30 a.m.
The Jackets return five starters on each side of the football from last season's tough 3-8 campaign, and Reiners said they have been working on getting those veterans plenty of reps — maybe even a few more than many of the newcomers because of some new additions to the system.
"No. 1, we start out the spring with equal reps for everybody," he said. "Now we have spent the last part giving our veterans a few more, especially with some new things on offense and on defense. But we're not forgetting about the younger guys.
"We're just trying to get everybody to get a better understanding of what we want to do. No matter where you are at — senior or freshmen — we need every one of you to take a step to get better."
Defensive coordinator Anthony Kerr has tweaked some things on that side of the football, and new offensive coordinator Mitch Dahlen has brought in some new facets as well.
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"We're putting in some different coverage schemes and different looks up front," Reiners said. "Really, it's some different things that we are trying to disguise what we are trying to do. When an offense looks at us, it may look like one thing, but really it is going to be another thing. We're trying to take a more aggressive approach and trying to get after things with different blitz packages and different looks."
Offensively, Reiners said that even with a new offensive coordinator, they'll run a very similar offense to what they have in the past with some new wrinkles.
"It will be a lot more tempo stuff; push the pace as long as it is working for us," he said. "We want to get the ball out of quarterbacks quick and not be decisive for them."
The Jackets will also have a new quarterback this season with the graduation of four-year starter Ryan Hommel. Competing for the job will be three sophomores — Tyler Hammons, Riley Glynn and Chance Eben.
Hammons filled in for an injured Hommel last season and completed 53-of-106 passes for 553 yards and six touchdowns.
"They have been getting reps equally throughout," Reiners said. "I doubt we will name a starting quarterback at the end of spring, we'll continue to look. There are some things we need them to continue to get better on, as far as decision making, getting the ball out of their hands. They are progressing through the system."
At running back, senior Payten Gilmore and junior Jack Walbye are back. Gilmore led the team with 793 yards and nine scores, while Walbye added 181 yards and six touchdowns.
Also in the mix are sophomores Nolan Susel and Matt Collier and junior Justin Davis.
"We have five backs who are doing some great things for us," Reiners said. "All five at times have shown some good reps."
Reiners said the Jackets will now look to finish the spring strong with a pair of practices next week and the spring game.
"We've talked about this in meetings; we want each one of our guys to look at the things you are deficient in and let's make those things a strength," he said. "We just need to finish these last few practices strong and take that next step to make our team better."
Black Hills State opens the regular season at home against Chadron State College on Sept. 7.