Fresh perspective: At least a dozen Blue Hawk freshmen are playing big roles this seasonBe it because of injury, shortage of options or plain old talent, Dickinson State’s freshmen class is having a season unlike one head coach Hank Biesiot has ever seen.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Be it because of injury, shortage of options or plain old talent, Dickinson State’s freshmen class is having a season unlike one head coach Hank Biesiot has ever seen.
In Biesiot’s 37 seasons as head coach, he said he cannot recall a year in which the Blue Hawks have relied on so many freshmen — redshirt or true — to be playmakers on either side of the football.
“They (freshmen) all used to be on the JV fields most of the time,” Biesiot said, referring to years past when DSU had both varsity and a junior varsity teams.
At least a dozen DSU freshmen have seen the field in big roles — and most of them are doing better than expected.
The biggest impact has been on defense, most notably at safety where the Blue Hawks may have found a tandem that can last four years — if they ever get a chance to play alongside one another.
Jaylen Sokoloski was playing great until he broke his left index finger. He was replaced by true freshman Brady Harkless. He has led the team in tackles in each of the two games as a starting safety.
Harkless has 25 tackles and two interceptions in two games and Sokolski has 23 tackles in three games.
Also in the defensive backfield, redshirt freshman James Stanton sees time on the field at cornerback and on special teams.
“It’s pretty exciting knowing that all these incoming freshmen and redshirt freshmen are contributing as much as we are,” Harkless said.
Kicker Chad Bryant is a true freshmen and is coming off the best game of his career. He had 46- and 41-yard field goals against Carroll College, DSU’s only points in a 42-6 loss. However, he is just 6 of 9 on extra-point attempts.
“I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of things,” Bryant said. “Nerves and whatnot, the first game or two, then just little things (like) keeping my head down. I feel like I’m really starting to become more consistent, which I need to be.”
Redshirt freshman Brian Askin was the starting punter until an injury sidelined him. In his place, true freshman punter Kyle Sanders has been averaging 37 yards per punt, four more than Askin.
Aside from junior Kyle Watson, inside linebacker has been a position basically run by freshmen.
Redshirt freshman Meyer Bohn got the starting nod after junior David Williams was injured in the season opener against Rocky Mountain.
Since then, true freshmen Colten Johnston and Jordan Moore have assumed duties there. Johnston is also DSU’s long snapper and Moore had eight tackles against Carroll College, his first game at the position after switching over from fullback.
Matt McCoy, a redshirt freshman outside linebacker, is playing a unique role in that he is helping take the place of his brother, Zach McCoy, a former standout for the Blue Hawks whose career ended before his senior season because of concussions.
The younger brother stepped into the same position and is showing that talent at the position runs in the family. Matt McCoy has 16 tackles and had 1½ sacks last week against Carroll College.
Biesiot said injuries of all sorts, as well as some expected returners not coming back to the team, is forcing DSU to insert more younger players this fall.
“That’s the way it is,” Biesiot said. “That’s why these freshmen are getting a chance to play too.”
DSU’s offense is much more upperclassmen orientated, though there are still a handful of players making meaningful contributions.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Wyatt Mirich has just one catch this season, but it was a big one — a 56-yard touchdown reception in a 21-20 victory over Montana State-Northern.
Cody Clausen, a redshirt freshman tight end, has neatly assumed a starting role since the MSU-Northern game — he had three catches for 34 yards — in place of injured senior Nate Zachmann.
Though they haven’t seen much playing time, redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Don Smith and Lane Millay have been holding down backup roles.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Thad Lane could also see the first action of his career this weekend as a backup to sophomore Matt Harkless. Senior starter Dave Velasquez is out for at least three weeks with a sprained right ankle.
“It’s a little unexpected by any freshmen that steps on the field, whether it’s injuries or a surprise, spur of the moment thing by Coach B,” Clausen said. “We all have to step up and make the plays that we do.”
Biesiot knows freshmen seeing the field is a silver lining for the team’s future, but added that it comes with expectations.
“They’re going to have to continue to grow,” Biesiot said. “When you’re on the field now, you can’t use experience or years as an excuse.”