CHADRON, Neb. — Season openers always include some question marks, but the Chadron State College football coaches are confident of one thing: Their players are weary of practicing and are eager to play a game.
That opportunity will come Thursday night, when the Eagles visit Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla for a 6:30 CDT kickoff.
“I’m sure we’re ready to play football,” coach Jay Long said while preparing for a practice on Labor Day, the Eagles’ last before they boarded the bus on Tuesday morning.
“We’ve had a good camp. The players came to work every day, everybody is healthy I believe and the (15) seniors are excited to make their mark. We should be ready to go.”
The Eagles have lots of experience on both sides of the ball. Nine starters are returning on offense, including six seniors, and several will be starting for the third year.
The situation is much the same on defense, where five seniors are probable starters and even the three sophomores in the lineup started a couple of games last season, when CSC finished with a 9-3 record and was ranked No. 18 in the final American Football Coaches Association poll.
Long said that after going 10-1 last season and not getting an NCAA Division II playoff bid, Missouri S&T contacted him immediately after the 2012 season ended. The Miners apparently had been told that their schedule was not strong enough to put them among the 16 teams that were selected for the playoffs.
“Since we made the playoffs and they hadn’t, they wanted to play us,” Long said. “We were happy to put them on our schedule. We’ll go to their place this year and they’ll come to Chadron next year.”
Missouri S&T is a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference that also includes teams from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. The Miners’ non-conference schedule last year included Oklahoma Panhandle State, which they defeated 55-14, and South Dakota Mines, which they beat 66-17. Their only loss was to the University of Indianapolis 54-35.
Last year’s head coach at Missouri S&T, David Brown, resigned in February to join the Fresno State staff. His replacement is Tyler Fenwick, the offensive coordinator at Missouri Western State University the previous six years.
Long said the coaching change makes it harder for his staff to know what to prepare for in the season opener, but the main emphasis has been on getting the Eagles ready to play the best they can regardless of what the other team does.
“Both our offense and our defense are pretty versatile with various alignments and flexible personnel,” Long said. “That means we’ve seen quite a few different looks in practice. I think we’ll be all right. We should be able to adapt to whatever they bring. We’ll just need to play football.”
Long said the coaches hope most of the 56 players who make the trip see action. While most of the starters are veterans, a majority of the alternates are young.
Long said the heat and humidity that have been high in western Nebraska most of the past two weeks could be to the Eagles’ benefit because those conditions are likely in Missouri and also the following Thursday (Sept. 12) when the Eagles play West Texas A&M in Dallas.
Long said the Eagles have been putting lots of emphasis on special teams this fall, because, in his words, “they’re often a game-changer.”
Two of the special teams’ kickers are newcomers who will be making their first appearances in a college game. The punter will be Zach Smith of Gering while Randy Wentz of Scottsbluff will kick off for the Eagles.
Smith joined the Eagles in January after attending Western Nebraska Community College last fall while Wentz is a true freshman who has been impressive in practice. Junior Alex Ferdinand will kick the extra points and field goals again this year after leading the Eagles in scoring last fall with 94 points.