Coming off a 7-5 season in which it hosted an FCS playoff game for the first time in program history, South Dakota football enters the 2022 season with a largely-similar roster and looking to bolster its team in some areas.
USD has eight weeks over the summer for NCAA-approved workout time. The emphasis in the summer months is strength and conditioning and film study.
“Guys are here training and working hard,” South Dakota football head coach Bob Nielson said. “Summer goes fast with them being around here in Vermillion.”
Ahead of the open of South Dakota football’s training camp Aug. 4, here’s an update on the Coyotes football program’s 2022 summer following a historic 2021 fall.
Breakout running back Nate Thomas will miss season with knee injury
After suffering a non-contact injury in a spring practice, breakout running back Nate Thomas will miss the entirety of the 2022 season after receiving surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus.
Thomas posted an update to Twitter on May 19 confirming the surgery, calling it “successful.”
“He’ll be out for the year and recovering,” Nielson said. “But look forward to getting him back here down the road.”
Thomas entered last season as a walk-on, but was awarded a scholarship in December after a freshman year in which he rushed 114 times for 717 yards and five touchdowns and was named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s All-Newcomer team.
The Coyotes do not lack depth at running back. Thomas’ emergence came after Shomari Lawrence suffered a season-ending injury last year, which opened the door to an additional breakout performance for then-freshman running back Mike Mansaray. Lead back Travis Theis had a breakout season of his own, rushing for 677 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns.
Injuries to Carson Camp last season emphasize quarterback depth
South Dakota sophomore quarterback Carson Camp endured several hits last season, but a hit he sustained against Illinois State the eighth game of the season stands out as a turning point for USD’s future evaluation of its quarterback depth.
The Coyotes were ranked No. 15 in FCS football at that point, in part due to the strong play of Camp, but on what appeared to be a slide, Camp was leveled by a defensive back. The hit knocked him out of the game. USD turned to backup quarterback Cole Stenstrom, who produced uneven results.
“That’s a really important position that you have quality depth,” Nielson said.
This offseason, the Coyotes added two players that will add immediate depth within the quarterback room. USD brought in Iowa State transfer Aidan Bouman and Texas freshman Cergio Perez to the room with Stenstrom and Camp. Nielson said he saw Bouman’s addition as an “opportunity” to add quality depth to the room.
“Those guys will be working hard to sort themselves out here in the (summer) considering Carson is really the only one with significant game experience,” Nielson said.
Redshirt freshman Makai Lovett has a chance at a bigger role as WR
Camp spread the ball around a lot last year. Early in the season, without a consistently-healthy Kody Case to take the role, Carter Bell emerged as the team’s best deep threat. But beyond Bell, wide receiver Caleb Vander Esch and tight end Brett Samson became the staples of a passing game that didn’t look upfield as much as down the middle of it and over toward the sidelines, hoping to find quick-release opportunities for its young quarterback.
Now Vander Esch and Samson have both moved on, and the Coyotes are left with a notably different pass-catching room. One player who made a big impression in the spring was Makai Lovett. The redshirt-freshman was the talk of training camp a season ago and has an intriguing physical profile for a receiver at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds.
“He’s always been one of the more physical-built type receivers,” Nielson said. “He’s a guy that’s worked hard this summer as well.”
Lovett isn’t a guarantee to break out in 2022, but his physical abilities as an outside receiver presents Camp with another target whcan win 50-50 battles on contested catches.
“We’re gonna need some guys to step forward,” Nielson said. “You’ll see some younger guys like Makai be asked to step up and play a more significant role.”
Follow Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter Michael McCleary on Twitter @mikejmccleary.