MARSHALL - For college football programs across the country, April presents an opportunity to get back out on the field for organized team events before school lets out. These spring practices culminate in a spring game, pitting offense versus defense and providing players a final chance to impress coaches before August.
Southwest Minnesota State University began its spring practices at the Regional Event Center on April 1 looking to build off of a 4-7 overall record in 2012, but the weather has been reluctant to cooperate with the Mustangs' practice schedule.
Mattke Field was blanketed during a winter storm April 9-11, forcing the Mustangs indoors to the R/A Facility.
Photo by Travis Andries
Defensive backs on the Southwest Minnesota State football team run through a drill during spring practice Tuesday inside the R/A Facility at SMSU.
Thankfully the Mustangs were able to find a venue large enough to accommodate the 74-member spring roster, though the change from field turf to hardwood has come with a few set-backs.
"It makes a huge difference just because, technically, we're not going to be full speed in here," SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said. "We don't have the surface to cut off of. Really we're just trying to make a negative into positive. We're trying to get a bunch of reps, just mentally and trying to get guys to understand what concepts are what, what we're trying to get out of each play."
Coaches like to use spring practices as a developmental jump-start in regards to timing and chemistry for the returning players. It also serves as a chance to reset the depth chart without the graduating seniors and before the incoming freshmen arrive. Crucial to that process is evaluation, which becomes increasingly difficult when not playing at full speed.
"It's going to be tough to evaluate, but at the same time we're doing a lot of teaching in the classroom and out here in this type of environment," Sauter said. "We're trying to stay positive with it and hopefully towards the end of the week we can get outside again. We've only had five true practices. So, really, a third of spring ball or more will be eliminated as far as getting some good work; but it is what it is and we've just got to battle through it."
The Mustangs will return 34 letter winners and 17 starters from their 2012 squad, but will be looking to replace three key members of their offensive backfield. Quarterback Tyler Peschong, running back Warren Matthews and running back Gannon Moore all graduated after decorated careers for SMSU. Peschong ranks among the top 10 in program history in nearly every quarterback metric. Matthews was SMSU's lone All-NSIC South first teamer last season and ranks first in kick returns and kick-return yardage in school history, while checking in at second in career all purpose yards. Moore rushed for 5.7 yards per carry in 2012 on his way to 782 yards and also ranks second in program history for career points scored.
Junior Tyler Tonderum looks to be the early front runner to replace the production lost by Matthews and Moore, while Charlie Kern could be poised to take over for Peschong under center.
"There are some big question marks we've got to answer with our quarterback spot and also at running back, so we are getting reps for those guys and getting them ready to go," Sauter said.
Despite the hiccups in their spring schedule, the Mustangs are trying to keep a positive outlook on their situation. The confined spaces of the R/A Facility, as far as football is related, allow the team to run repetitions at a higher rate. Mentally taxing, the high octane practices require every player to be focused on the drill at hand while getting more players involved during practice. Sauter hopes that the more mental approach to the game while inside helps his team practice that much faster whenever it returns to Mattke Field.
"That's the goal is for us to understand what we're doing so that when we do go outside, we should be able to pick up things fairly quickly and pick up from where we left off from our last outdoor practice," Sauter said. "The game of football, a lot of it is mental and a lot of it is physical. We've just got to keep our guys into it more than anything right now.
"It can be a blessing in disguise," he added. "We can keep some guys healthy, we're not banging as much and hitting. With that hopefully we can stay a little more healthy in spring."
SMSU's spring game is scheduled for April 27 at the Regional Event Center at 1 p.m. with a Kid's Clinic prior at 11:45 a.m.
NOTES: Already with 33 new faces set to join the program in the fall, Sauter announced on Tuesday that Philip Pizzo, from Camarillo, Calif., had signed a letter of intent to play collegiately for the Mustangs.
Pizzo, a tight end, caught 46 balls for 756 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 215 pounds, Pizzo was named all-county and all-conference while playing for Camarillo High School. He also competes in track and field, earning Ventura County rated division championships in the high jump and high hurdles.