MARSHALL - With 10 of 11 starters back from last year's offense, the Southwest Minnesota State football team already has some chemistry. But with a mild winter keeping snow off Mattke Field, Mustangs quarterback Tyler Peschong and the SMSU receivers were able to get some of their timing down a lot earlier.
"Two times a week for the last couple years, we've thrown in the gym," Peschong said, "but around January 17th or 19th, we were out in t-shirts and shorts in the middle of the football field.
"You get that timing down with the yardages and everything. That's an advantage for spring ball that can hopefully carry over into the fall."
Photo by Joe Brown
Wide receivers on the Southwest Minnesota State football team line up for warmup sprints during the first day of spring practice on Monday at Mattke Field. Last season, the Mustangs went 3-8 overall, 3-7 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. SMSU has four weeks of spring practice before its spring football game on April 21.
On Monday, SMSU hit the field for its first spring practice. The team will have four weeks of practice before capping the early practice session off with the spring football game on April 21.
"It's a group that has some experience now and they're working hard," said Peschong, who was a second-team All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference pick after racking up 2,627 yards and 27 total touchdowns last year.
"We're expecting big things (on offense)," Peschong added. "We're making no excuses about it, we expect a big year."
While the offense is without one starter from last year in offensive lineman Jon Cox, the defense is looking to fill five open spots on a unit that struggled to stop opposing offenses, allowing 37.4 points per game and 468.5 yards per game, both ranked 13th in the 14-team NSIC.
The Mustangs lost their top three tacklers from last year in linebackers John Kersbergen and Phil Breidall and safety Levi Reiff. Cornerback Lawson Starr and defensive lineman Randy Erickson also graduated from last year's team.
"We're going to have some young players that will have to play," said Mustangs third-year head coach Cory Sauter, "even some true freshman that will play as well.
"Experience-wise, we're not where we need to be to be a top team in the conference," Sauter added. "We're going to take it step by step and see who will emerge."
With 79 players out for spring ball, including 44 letterwinners from last season, the team is working on the mental aspects of the game to start spring practice, as well as seeing who emerges to provide depth for the team before it opens the 2012 season on Aug. 30 against Minnesota-Duluth.
"Our biggest emphasis in these first couple practices is not making any mental mistakes, execute the offense and defense and get the guys used to playing the game again," Sauter said. "They've been off for a couple months and now we're trying to formulate our 2012 squad. There's going to be a lot of competition at a lot of positions. That's what we like is there is good competition across the board.
"We have to be hungrier than ever to get ourselves to the upper echelon of the conference and that's not an easy task. We can't be complacent. We have to be hungry every day of practice in order to get better."
NOTES: Two notables that were missing from Monday's practice were defensive end Mark Schollmeyer and offensive lineman Austin Nichols. Schollmeyer (55 tackles, five sacks in 2011) was on the sidelines on crutches for a leg injury. Sauter said Nichols will hopefully return next week. ... Two new faces will compete for the open fullback spot in David Schotanus (transfer from Rochester Community College) and Corey Cavitt, who redshirted last year.