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It's all about anticipation for the South Dakota School of Mines and Black Hills State University football teams as they prepare for the fall season.

This weekend through Monday is check-in day for the programs, with the first workouts Monday for Mines and Tuesday for BHSU.

Chadron State College opened fall drills on Friday.

"There's a lot of excitement, a lot of nervous people," Mines head coach Zach Tinker said. "It's that combination, but you want that. You want the players to have some anxiety about it because that means that they care."

The Hardrockers, 5-6 last season, will practice for the first time Monday. Tinker said they will ease into contact after a couple of mandatory days without contact.

"They call it acclimatization, and then you ramp up as the week goes along," he said.

Mines will have a couple of early intrasquad scrimmages. In the past they have had up to two and one-half scrimmages, but will focus on two this fall, one in the afternoon and one under the lights.

"What happens is you are a little more ambitious before you start and you kind of pull them back," Tinker said. "Maybe one scrimmage there is not a lot to it. Hopefully we will be more focused on the two that we will have.

Tinker said their focus early in the season is to get the right culture built for the program that builds around a blue collar work ethic.

"Without the blue collar work ethic the rest of the stuff doesn't go anywhere," he said. "That is the first phase; how do you work, how do you put in the time, how do you practice with each other, how you compete in practice?

"If we can learn how to do those things, at that point once you establish that, you can establish actually getting good at the stuff that you do. Sometimes we focus so much at trying to get good at everything that we forget the first phase of football, which is the team that plays harder usually wins."

As was the case in the spring workouts, the Hardrockers have a quarterback battle after the graduation of Jake Sullivan, a first team All Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selection.

Tinker said the number one thing that have and will do for their quarterbacks is improve on defense and strengthen the roster around him.

"It is not logical that we are just going to stumble upon the next Jake Sullivan. It took about 150 years to find the first one. I hope it won't take that long to find the next one," he said.

"We bring back good experience on defense and we're healthier on defense. We played some guys last year that were really young on defense last year that had no experience. As the season went along, we got better. We feel like we are ahead of the game on that side on the ball.

The Hardrockers open the season Sept. 7 at home against Colorado Mesa.

Yellow Jackets set for first practice Tuesday

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For Black Hills State, Monday will be more of an administration day with meeting and players checking in. They'll hit the practice field at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Black Hills State head coach John Reiners said the excitement from early in camp begins from the players staying in Spearfish over the summer and from those who worked out elsewhere.

"You can see the development and the work they put in. It gives you motivation and excitement," said Reiners, whose team finished 3-8 last season. "Our players are looking forward to getting things going and righting the ship and getting the program back to where it needs to be."

Reiners said they had at different times anywhere from 40 to 50 players working out in Spearfish during the summer months.

He said the players they had players who needed to trim up and lose weight, and players who needed to gain weight. He said they all got stronger.

 "I really like the dedication our guys put in during the summer.," he said. "I've yet to be disappointed in how a guy looks who has walked into my office the last couple of weeks. That is exciting and shows the commitment these guys have."

Reiners said their main focus for the early days of fall camp is consistency, whether the player is starter or a backup, and getting them comfortable with their schemes.

It's also their focus and energy early on that will be critical, he added. Reiners said they are trying to establish the mental and physical mindsets, especially with a good Chadron State College team in their season opener at home Sept. 7.

"When you look at this conference, every game has been a dog fight," he said. "Of course, our first game will be a dog fight. You have a very physical team in Chadron, and that is what they pride themselves on, outworking their opponent and being more physical."

The Black Hills State quarterback battle, with the graduation loss of four-year starter Ryan Hommel, is still up for grabs. The Jackets have three quarterbacks returning — Tyler Hammons, Riley Glynn and Chance Eben — and two transfers, Andrew Tovar from the University of Arizona and Cade Uhrick from CSU-Pueblo.

"To me, it's like any position. It's all about the competition," Reiners said. "I'm excited to see all of these guys compete. It's going to make them better and make us better."

Eagles already underway

Chadron State College, under head coach Jay Long, is a few days ahead of the Hardrockers and Jackets, as they opened fall drills on Friday.

The Eagles were picked third in the recent RMAC coaches poll (Mines was sixth and BH was ninth).

With 19 seniors returning, Long said the Eagles will haves strong leadership and stability. He also was impressed by the improvement many younger players made during spring practice and is counting on a major contribution from them.

"We're excited about what's coming back this year," said Long recently at the RMAC Football Media Days in Denver. "We have 19 seniors returning. With that many, you hope you have something special. The team we have right now is a product of what Chadron is. We want to be a tough football team, and when you have 19 seniors to push that culture, it's really exciting."

After traveling to Spearfish Sept. 7 to play Black Hills State, Chadron State opens it's home slate Sept. 14 against Colorado State-Pueblo.

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.