There may not be a bigger position battle at Chadron State fall camp than across the defensive line.
A senior-dominated unit that swarmed backfields in 2017, leading the RMAC in sacks, won’t have rugged nose tackles Mitch Collicott and Tanner Wintholz plugging the middle this fall. Defensive end Tyler Kiess and rush end / linebacker Collin Eisenmann are finished hunting quarterbacks and Truett Box is trying to make a name for himself in the National Arena League with the Lehigh Valley Steel Hawks in Pennsylvania where he’s played in five games and picked up a sack.
The Eagle D-line returns just one high-impact upperclassman and there are plenty of opportunities for new breakout stars.
Senior Kyle Temple will be counted on as the leader of the unit and is ready to step into the role.
“One of the biggest steps leadership-wise I took forward in the spring was really getting to know a lot of our younger guys, and making sure that they have a not only a person to look to when times are a little tough, but a person to go to both on the field and off the field,” Temple told me at RMAC Media Day. “Sometimes everybody needs a little push, a little help here and there, and I had it from the seniors in front of me and I know how much that helped me. So, just trying to make sure those (younger) guys are comfortable and not so stressed. It makes football just a whole lot easier.”
He says the aforementioned group of seniors taught him the advantages of strong discipline.
“One of the biggest things is they held everybody accountable so well. Not only on the D-line but on the team in general. Not letting anybody settle, no short cuts, stuff like that. They had all been part of the Eagle culture for so long that it allowed them to succeed more so than in previous years.”
So who will be among the next group of offense disruptors up front? That remains to be seen as battles play out in camp and the season moves along. But Temple mentioned a few guys that stood out in the offseason and fans may come to know as big playmakers in coming seasons.
“There’s a whole group of guys. I feel like the group a couple grades below myself are going to be very similar to the guys we just graduated. Guys like (freshman) Steven Shields is really looking good, (he) had a great summer, looks very good, very talented. (Sophomore) Brendan Hopkins had a great summer, and a great spring.” Temple noted.
“And some of the guys on the end like (sophomore) Jace Giannonatti, (freshman) Ed Fritzler and (junior) Calder Forcella who is really looking to take a big step forward this year. He got into the rotation a little bit last year and he can help bring these younger guys along.”
“I think one of the bright sides is there were only two individuals that didn’t stay in Chadron this summer so we had a very large group. Almost the whole D-line group (was) here for the summer, able to bond, able to work out together and find ways to succeed and I think that’s really going to benefit us going forward,” Temple said.
With how competitive the RMAC landscape is on any given Saturday there won’t be much time for a learning curve for the young newcomers. Temple knows the standard has been set and coaches hold them to a high bar for success.
“(Defensive Coordinator) Coach Larson has a very high standard of goals for us and I think that’s a great thing. It gives us something to shoot for. Those game goals, weekly goals and season goals are just tremendous help to us in getting us where we need to be. It seems like when we reach those goals it really shows on the field and on the scoreboard. (On Temple’s personal goals) I think it’s a team game. It’s cool to be all-RMAC, all-this-that-and-the-other, but I’d rather have a more successful season helping these guys get along and build on the future for what’s coming next.”
We’ll find out soon what’s next for the future of the Eagle D-line with kickoff a little more than three weeks away. But for Temple, there’s only one game that matters right now.
“I think that first game, Black Hills (is the one I look forward to most). We got a new stadium, and (the rivalry with) Black Hills. Not wanting to look too far forward, I believe it’s one of the most exciting games of the year. It’s always a good game, they always play us tough. It’s the first one (on the schedule) and it’s going to be a good time under the lights for the first time and it’s going to be a good one.”