The Eagles’ coaches have been extremely pleased with their pre-season practices. They said the players reported in good condition and have worked hard the past 2 1/2 weeks. Last Saturday’s scrimmage provided additional encouragement.
During the scrimmage, which was against the service team, starting quarterback Shawn Eisenreich completed seven of eight passes for 116 yards and his backup, Erik Osborne, clicked on eight of 10 tosses for 75 yards. A number of excellent running plays also unfolded. Several longtime observers said the scrimmage seemed to contain more spectacular plays than they remembered from past years.
The top defense didn’t give up a first down to the service team offense.
The Eagles hope to capitalize on the experience that Eisenreich provides at quarterback. This will be his third season as the starter. He completed 196 passes each of the past two years, even though the Eagles had a solid running game both years. Head Coach Brad Smith said he believes Eisenreich has been playing better than ever during the pre-season.
Eisenreich and Osborne will operate behind a seasoned offensive line. Six of the linemen started at least a couple of games last year. They include tackles Layne Seivers and Chase Olsen, guards Ryan O’Dea, Chad White and Robbie Klinetobe and center Jeremy Slaughter. Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Boyle, who coaches the line, said they seem to have molded into a solid unit that is supported by several other capable players.
Excellent understudies include sophomore tackles Rhett Abernathy and Jared Lee and center Taylor Lewis, a transfer from Coffeyville Community College, where he was a second-team junior college All-American.
Depth in the offensive line is one of the Eagles’ strong suits.
The receivers have caught the ball well during the preseason, continuing a trend set last spring. Two-year starter Gregg Trepka is expected to miss the trip to Minnesota because of a hip pointer he suffered in Saturday’s scrimmage. That leaves the Eagles a bit short-handed on the outside. Juniors Matt Scheele and Ben Woodhead are the probable starters while redshirt freshman Micah Smith, the head coach’s son, also will be in the rotation.
Bryce Flammang, who led the Eagles in receptions last season, and crafty Brady Hollaway will man the inside receiver spots.
The Eagles are blessed with an array of outstanding running backs. After serving as backups the past three years, seniors Travis Covey and Nathan Liess will open the campaign as the leaders at the position. However, they acknowledge that several youngsters are breathing down their necks for playing time.
Among the latter are redshirt freshman Brent Harner, one of the top high school running backs in Illinois in 2002, hard-running Joel Schommer and Danny Woodhead of North Platte, undoubtedly the most publicized athlete ever to enroll at CSC. Woodhead accumulated more than 6,500 all-purpose yards during his prep career. Both the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald named him their high school athlete of the year last spring.
Another tailback, junior Casey Fosher, has agreed to move to inside receiver. Junior Don Cestnik will take over at fullback when the Eagles switch to their two-back, offset I formation.
The defense also has its share of certified standouts, but definitely lacks depth at several positions. Just one of the backups on the travel roster has earned a letter, and that was at a different position than he’s playing this season.
Defensive leaders include preseason All-American Casey Haldeman at end, inside linebacker Jeff Rusher, a two-time All-American wrestler Jeff Rusher; tackle Derek Hamilton and Chadron native Mitch Barry at cornerback. All four are preseason all-conference selections.
Others with starting experience on defense are outside linebacker Kalan Jones, safetys Cody Assmann and Justin Dietrich and cornerback Eric Barker, who played safety last season when Dietrich was injured.
This season, Barker has the unenviable task of trying to replace Marvin Jackson, a four-time first-team all-conference and two-time All-American at the cornerback opposite Barry.
Barry led the RMAC in interceptions last fall with six.
Defensive Coordinator Todd Auer also has great confidence in seniors Seth Rhoades at outside linebacker and Evan Halchishick at inside linebacker. Both played at least half the time last season while rotating with starters.
Outside linebacker took a hit in Saturday’s scrimmage when Joe Jones suffered a knee injury that could sideline him for several games.
Sophomore George (Mac) Jenkins will make his first start at defensive end as will whomever lines up opposite Hamilton at tackle. The candidates include senior Micah Herman, junior transfer Keith Kennedy, sophomore Chris Diemoz and redshirt freshman Pierce Petersen.
Because of lack of depth in some areas on defense, Auer is using redshirt freshman Kase Kossman as a primary alternate at both end and inside linebacker. The coaches also have toyed with the idea of preparing Micah Smith for duty as an emergency cornerback.
“If we stay healthy, I think we’ll be all right on defense, but a lot of the young guys have got to step up and help,” Auer said.
Besides Danny Woodhead, another true freshman will see action immediately. Justin Baumgartner, a 2004 graduate of Cheyenne East High School, is the team’s long-snapper. The versatile Barry will do the punting again while Ryan Mackey returns as the placekicker.
After the trip to Minnesota, the Eagles will be at home Saturday, Sept. 4 to host Adams State.
--By Con Marshall, Sports Information Director