VERMILLION — Asked about his team’s off-season training and how it will translate to the football field, Joe Glenn points up to the DakotaDome south wall.
“That thing right there, see it?” he asks. “It’s called a scoreboard. Every occupation should have one of those, for the world to see.”
After nearly five months of off-the-field improvements, Glenn and his University of South Dakota football team are working — in all phases — to ensure that a 1-10 record last fall is truly a thing of the past.
Following his squad’s ninth practice Wednesday of the spring season, Glenn, in his usual light-hearted way, related a story from his playing days. A coach at the time said that any player can walk across a 4-foot wooden plank on the ground, but the trick is to do it 100 feet up in the air.
“You can do it here, but we better do it on gameday and when they have the lights on the scoreboard,” Glenn added, pointing out that USD lost four games last year by three points. “If we get some momentum going, who knows what can happen.”
On the issue of things they can control in the short team, the Coyotes chose to focus on bettering themselves rather than worrying about what happened in 2012, according to senior defensive back Devin Taverna.
“We all have the attitude that we’re not going to go down, we’re only going up,” said Taverna, who was second on the team with 48 tackles a year ago. “We’re getting after it every day.”
For the Coyotes, it all started in the weight room.
Spurred on by the direction of strength and conditioning coach Jevon Bowman, the team participated in a 6-week, total-body workout routine, focused additional attention on nutrition and yes, even worked on flexibility through yoga.
By all accounts, and even through first glances, the results followed.
“When we started spring ball, we attacked everything,” senior defensive back Aaron Swift said. “Everyone wants to win now. There’s a different attitude about it.”
Returning experience on both sides of the ball figures to help the Coyotes, even in spring ball — when the 2013 recruiting class is not yet on campus.
Of the players started last year’s season finale at South Dakota State, 14 are back. The offensive line returns four of five starters, not to mention quarterback Josh Vander Maten (Jr.) and wide receiver Terrance Terry (Jr.).
On defense, USD returns four defensive backs, two of three linemen, and two of four linebackers.
Asked about improvements the defense has keyed on, Swift pointed to takeaways.
“We have a goal we set for this year,” he said. “(North Dakota State) had 32 last year, so that’s what we aim for. When the season comes around, I’m sure that number will change; might even go up.”
The off-season changes not only included fitness and some number switches (Vander Maten moved from 16 to 7, for example), but an overall team motto.
As proof that the line “Band of Brothers” is here to say, the players all wear black wristbands with that motto and the year, “2013.”
“Last year we didn’t have anything, so a couple of us came together and said, ‘We should have something we can wear that says how committed we are,’” Taverna said. “This season’s all about us, not about the individual.”
Of course, new numbers and wristbands are one thing, but discipline is the biggest key, Glenn said.
“I told them, it’s not jewelry, it’s got to mean something,” he said. “You have to take care of each other off the field too; be leaders.
“Freshmen can really struggle in the water, and they need help. We have to be the family they can reach out to.”
And so, will all these changes and workouts translate to success on the field come August?
“This will go a long way,” Taverna said. “Just look at last year’s schedule, we lost four games by three points. It was that one little edge we needed. This year, the team’s unity brings us that edge.”
With five practices remaining until the April 20 spring game in Vermillion, the Coyotes still have some time to improve. The ultimate goal, according to Swift, is to learn from 2012.
“The past is the past; we can’t change it,” he said. “A one and ten record is definitely going to motivate us.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck