During his initial negotiations with Bob Nielson in 2015, University of South Dakota athletic director David Herbster presented his then-prospective coach with a grand plan to improve the Coyotes’ football facilities.
Included were a state-of-the-art weight room, an outdoor practice complex and extensive renovations to the DakotaDome.
Nearly three years later, nearly two-thirds of that vision has been realized.
The first step was completed in 2016 as part of the Sanford Coyote Sports Center. The second should be finished within a few weeks.
Progress has been steady on the $1.8 million football practice facility and – with continued cooperation from Mother Nature (something that’s always a lock in this state) – it could be ready to use as early as mid-November.
I caught up with Herbster earlier this week to get his thoughts on this most recent project and what it will do to enhance the Coyote football experience.
Q: This practice facility is the first step in the next step of the commitment to athletics at the University of South Dakota. It’s something the football program has really been wanting for a long time. So, how exciting is it to see it getting closer and closer with each passing day?
A: It’s rewarding to know that all the work that we’ve put in to this project and the rest of the Dome renovation project, you’re starting to see the fruits of that when something like this, the practice field, starts to come together. So that anticipation, the closer it gets to being done, the sooner everybody wants it finished.
Q: When this is done, where would you stack it up against what other teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference have to work with?
A: I would say it certainly ends up at the top of the list. To have your own dedicated practice field, with permanent filming towers. Right next to your playing facility. It’s going to be one of the top in the league.
Q: What can this offer your program?
A: Part of it is the recruiting and just the overall support and investment in the football program, but it’s also going to bring a great deal of stability with the program.
From a maintenance standpoint, that consistency of knowing what we’re going to go out and practice on each and every day, there are no teams in the Valley anymore that even play on natural grass and probably less than a handful of times even over the next seven years where we play anybody that has natural grass. Now we have the opportunity to practice continually, both inside and out, on what we’re going to play on week in and week out.
Q: What are some of the features of this complex?
A: It’s a full-length 100-yard field with 10-yard end zones, so it’s a full length 120-yard field. We also have a side field, which is about half the size of a regulation field. We put that in there, because we can really break out both individual work, position group work and skill work and separate that from the main playing surface.
We’ll have the two permanent filming towers in here as well. I think in the state of South Dakota, at all costs, if you can have a permanent film tower and not have to worry about the wind, it’s a great benefit to both the health and safety of the people we have up there filming. Eventually, we will have a storage shed out here as well to put all of our equipment, blocking equipment, sleds, things like that…goalposts, scoreboard, play clock. It will look very similar to the field in the Dome, with respect to the logo in the middle, red end zones. The idea was simulate, as best we can, what we’re going to play on when we’re home.
Q: How does the price tag of this complex factor in to the overall facilities project?
A: It’s part of our overall $26 million phase one renovation of the DakotaDome. Now, we really had to get this phase done first. When we actually start the renovations themselves, it’ll be about mid-February. So knowing that, we also realize that we’re going to have to move football out for spring practice, and we couldn’t do that at the time that we wanted to do it unless this was done. So this really is kind of the first phase of the renovations.