A few hours after he had officially unveiled his 2017 recruiting class, I caught up with South Dakota head football coach Bob Nielson in Sioux Falls.
Here is the full transcript of that interview:
JE: Let’s start with your overall impressions. Class number two for you here at USD and what appears to be another successful recruiting cycle.
BN: Really excited. Great group. Our staff had a full year to be able to build relationships with a tremendous group of young men that are going to be a big part of the future of our program.
JE: How much easier is it to have that time as opposed to what you had last year?
BN: Well, when you have a full year it gives you a greater opportunity to evaluate. It also gives you a tremendous advantage as far as being able to build relationships with young men and their parents. And I think our recruiting class shows just that. It shows the hard work that our staff did in identifying and attracting some high quality young men and some very talented football players.
JE: It was pretty evident by that final list where some of the top priorities were. That was inside on the lines, in the trenches. Why was that such a big target for you?
BN: We needed to increase our depth in the offensive and defensive lines and so that was a priority in this class. We were able to get that both in terms of the volume of players that we signed and in the quality of players that we signed. Those are just such critical needs for programs at our level. Your success really starts inside out by having the kind of quality linemen that can play on both sides of the ball.
JE: Is that particularly true in your league?
BN: In this league you’ve got to be a physical football team to be able to win and that starts up front. Certainly we’ve got some very talented skill players in this class that adds to our position groups, but the focus that we have on the O/D lines are going to make us a better football team down the road.
JE: Outside of that group, 16 guys out of the 31 that signed on Signing Day, what were some of the attributes that you really set out to bring in?
BN: I think the thing in this class is that we wanted a broad range of players that were able to raise the level of talent in our position groups. We feel like we did that across the board. We’ve got people we were able to attract at every position that are going to come in and not just push the people that we have in that position, but actually compete for playing time and building that competition your program gets better in a hurry.
JE: When you’re at the University of South Dakota everybody is going to be interested to see what South Dakota products you bring in. This year there’s three of them. Overall, with that group within this class, what do you like and what do you think they can do for you?
BN: We’ve got three young men there that all bring different things to our program, but I think all three have the potential to be future leaders in our program. You look at this class and there’s a real strong regional representation with South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa all well represented, which is going to continue to be a major focus of our recruiting in the future.
JE: Is that a big part of the philosophy for you? The way Joe Glenn used to say it was, ‘from the steps of Old Main on out’. Do you have a shared vision that way?
BN: Yeah. You have to build your base regionally and certainly starting in the state of South Dakota and moving out into the region that the University recruits into from a general basis. But, also, there are a lot of very talented football players capable of being successful in the Division I level from this Upper Midwest Region and we want that to be a focal point in our recruiting every year.
JE: Can you speak to Lincoln Gibbs specifically? What can he bring?
BN: What a great young man. He brings a tremendous amount of not just ability, but a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm for our program and for his future. Those kinds of guys just ooze success and I’m just so excited to have him as one of the key parts of this recruiting class and the amount of excitement that he’ll bring to our program.
JE: A question that a lot of people have when it comes to recruiting and that, for a football coach, is all but impossible to answer is the immediate impact. There’s guys that I’m sure you expect could very well come in and play right away, and guys that you know will full well that you’re going to redshirt. Do you see a number of guys in this class and are there any in particular that stand out, that people are really going to want to pay attention to as we move toward fall?
BN: Every year you’ve got guys that come in as freshman and even though your intent is to allow these guys to progress – and the opportunity to redshirt for a lot of them will be the right decision – we’re going to have guys in this class, just like we did last year, that will play and help us right away. I think the one thing that this group does bring is it brings a depth in terms of quality that may see a few more than what have in the past work their way into a position where they are helping our team on the field during year one.
JE: You addressed the needs on the offensive and defensive lines, but as you move toward the spring, is there a position of concern in terms of depth after this recruiting cycle that you know you’re going to be looking at next year like you looked at the interior lines this year?
BN: I think spring practice will tell us a lot. You’re never ever done recruiting. Recruiting is one of those things that’s ongoing. This class, we feel, addresses our needs and immediate priorities that we felt like we had to address. At the same time, we’ll continue to evaluate if there is an additional player or two that might fill our team to a better extent for the fall.
JE: You mean you’ll see if there’s a surprise Chris Streveler out there somewhere?
BN: That’s exactly right. Those kinds of situations, in today’s day of college football , do happen and finding a unique player that would add to this class would still be a possibility.