The Hastings College football team wrapped up its spring practice with the Bronco Roundup and here are the key takeaways.
One of the first things Head Coach Tony Harper talked about was the teams' mindset as that will be one of the most important things moving forward.
"Mindset, it is as simple as that. Are we going to put in the time this summer to reach our expectations? We've had good attendance with our off-season program in the past with 40-50 guys sticking around but we have to have 60-80 guys here," Harper said. "It has to be a mindset that I want to get better every day. It's got to be a mindset that I want to be here and I want to improve myself and I want to get coached harder and I want to hold each other accountable; that's the biggest thing this off-season and going into camp. This has nothing to do with schemes, it has nothing to do with who's playing what position, it has everything to do with how can I do my part to make this team the best it can be."
A major part of that mindset is the changes with the offense by adding Offensive Coordinator Clint Head as he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. Coach Head was the offensive coordinator for Hastings back from 2007-2009 where he led an offense that had plenty of success including a run into the playoffs in 2009.
One of the key components is finding a quarterback and this fall Anthony Cloyd (JR/Omaha, NE) and JuCo transfer Isaiah Jackson jumped to the front of the line.
"You look at Anthony Cloyd who hasn't played quarterback for three years, Isaiah Jackson transferred in from Fullerton Junior College where they won the national championship but he is still a new guy, still just a true freshman at this point." Harper continued. "This is his first true spring so I am cautiously optimistic with everything that is going on over on that side of the ball because those guys know what coach Head is looking for, you have two guys that are coming from very successful programs. In a perfect world we are going to name a guy about a week into fall camp, I'm not going to drag this thing out because it is not fair to those guys, it's not fair to the guys that are competing at that position and all around them. But we will not just jump ahead and name a guy just to name a guy, it's got to be a guy that has a good grasp of the offense."
The Broncos have had plenty of consistency at the playmaker position returning its leading rusher in Tahj Willingham (SO/Greenwood Village, CO) as he rushed for 659 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Also returning is HC's leading receiver in Jordan Johnson (SO/Spring Valley, CA) as he caught 47 passes for 931 yards and seven touchdowns.
Coach Harper knows that getting the ball in these guys hands with open space will be key to a successful offense. "You've got to be able to motion some guys creating mismatches whether it's creating an extra gap on the edge with some shifting and some tight end trades. We have got to get these guys out flanked a little bit. I believe our receiving corps could be one of our strengths this upcoming year so we might be able to get defenses focused on them so we can create some one-on-one opportunities for Tahj Willingham and Travis Agagah (JR/Gretna, NE)," Harper continued.
"That's the thing as we have had a stable of backs with plenty of experience but still need a third guy to emerge to help with pass protection, catching the ball out of the back field or running it, we have to have three guys that can get the job done. Also when you have two mobile quarterbacks that can make plays with their feet, which creates an extra gap as well. We have to be able to run the up tempo offense that Coach Head wants to create that one-on-one competition."
In order for these guys to get into open space, the offensive line will need dominate the trenches. "We were night and day difference from April 3 to April 28 so that is the good thing but we have to make sure we hit that point of attack physically, we can't just wait for it by just absorbing defensive players, we have to be the aggressor, we have to be able to move that line two to three yards back in order to be successful," Harper said.
Defensively the Broncos will continue to run the 3-3 stack but with this style of defense we learned through the spring is we need to improve in three major areas in order to be successful. "We need to make sure we are adjusting correctly especially when we get quick motion, slow motion, we need to over communicate; we need to improve on those two," Harper continued. "In regards to our tackling, that has to improve. As the spring progressed we got a lot better in these areas but still have a ways to go. We do need to be more successful in stopping the run, we have to get our fit correct because when you run a 3-man front, that is always a major concern so we have to make sure we leverage everything right back to our teammates."
There were some guys that stood out defensively this spring as Austin Bretting (SO/Lincoln, NE) had a great spring and someone else that jumped off the page was Norman McKissack (JR/Chicago, IL). Also with having Jacob Tarr (JR/Chaparral, CO) returning in the defensive backfield will be big for the Broncos as he had a great year last year with 80 total tackles and even returned a punt for a touchdown.
The most consistent piece over the past few years has bee the special teams but this spring certainly had a different feel as Hastings lost two all-conference performers in Brandon Bachle (SR/Grand Island, NE) and Nick Giaffoglione (SR/Omaha, NE). Look for the experience of Cole Fisher (SO/Omaha, NE) and Cloyd at the long snapper position to help as Alex Stogdill (SO/Lincoln, NE) looks to step in at punting and placekicking.
"The big takeaway are the two main components and one is the long snapping with Cole (Fisher) back that's going to be a huge advantage for us. Anthony Cloyd snapped a little bit last year as well and with Coach Dave Kimura working with some other guys this spring whether it was Darren Scott (SO/Waterloo, IA) or Noah Housh (SR/Lincoln, NE), so he has back-up plans for that but having experience back at this position is a huge thing. Obviously you're not going to replace Brandon Bachle and Nick Giaffoglione in one day, it's going to take time and consistency because both guys were all-conference performers so there is a lot of experience that we graduated there. Fortunately, we got Alex Stogdill who's coming back off a redshirt year," Harper said.
"He's very consistent, he knows what coach Kimura is looking for but we need to get stronger with some lower body strength. We know with Stogs work ethic, we have a lot of confidence in him and he's going to just keep getting better and stronger. One of the major components is having coach Kimura back coordinating the special teams. He does a great job as he takes a lot of pride in it as that was our most consistent unit last year and we expect that to continue."
Again, moving forward through summer and into the fall, mindset is what stood out for Coach Harper, so we will see how everything pans out for the Broncos as the next steps start to take shape moving into the summer and into fall camp.
Also the Broncos did recognize some members of the team that stood out this spring.
The Dr. Kory Bumgardner Lifting award went to Jacob Gigax (JR/Ralston, NE)
The Pat McCauley most improved defensive player award went to Austin Bretting
The Pat McCauley most improved offensive player award went to Anthony Cloyd and Isaiah Jackson
The Bronco Roundup offensive player of the game went to Khaleo Buckmon (SR/Greenwood Village, CO)
The Bronco Roundup defensive player of the game went to Norman McKissack