Eisenman, a combo-outside linebacker/end from Sheridan, Wyoming, returns after finishing ninth in the league for both pass sacks (five) and tackles for loss (10.0). He led the team for the second consecutive season in both categories, finishing 2016 as an All-RMAC Second Team selection.
The football team will be begin working to shed their preseason ranking and climb back toward the top of the conference standings when the players report Sunday, Aug. 6 for photo day, to check out equipment and take care of paperwork.
The first of the 23 practices allowed by the NCAA before the season kicks off will begin the following day.
The Eagles will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 2 against the Fort Lewis Skyhawks in Durango, Colorado. Their first home game will be the following Saturday against Colorado Mines.
The Eagles finished at 3-8 a year ago, but have their sights set considerably higher for this fall.
Head coach Jay Long said the Eagles had an excellent spring practice and believes that if the Eagles avoid a multitude of injuries, they’ll be much improved.
Injuries hit hard last season when 10 players who were on the travel roster had season-ending injuries. Among them were standout defensive end Tyler Kiess, safety Ryan Wood, a first-team all-conference choice as a sophomore in 2014, and starting quarterback TD Stein.
All three have received medical hardship and were granted another year of eligibility.
“Our seniors want to show everybody they’re better than our record indicated last year,” Long said. “And, our young players demonstrated this spring that they have what it takes to be an Eagle. They’ve got the work ethic and the mentality to make things happen.”
The coach said the defense, led by six seniors in the line, counting Eisenman, should be “really solid.” It will help immensely if several key players in the secondary who missed much of last season because of injuries, can stay healthy.
He also says the offense has “exciting possibilities” but needs to develop more consistency.
The team has 37 lettermen, made up of 15 seniors, nine juniors and 13 sophomores, several of whom were rushed into action last fall when veterans were sidelined by injuries. The roster also includes 29 players who were redshirt freshmen last fall, six squadmen, eight transfers and 60 incoming freshmen.
The secondary will feature four seniors, including Ryan Wood and Trey Mosley, who also is coming back from being injured last fall. The others are Steve Allen, who had two interceptions and broke up nine passes, and Brian Wood, Ryan’s twin brother, who took part in 60 tackles.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Larson said “it will be huge” to have cornerback DeAndre Barthwell available. He missed last season after starting several games as a true freshman in 2015. The coach added that safety Zech James is one of the Eagles’ surest tacklers and said redshirt freshman Cole Thurness, chosen the top defender on the service teams last fall, is among the younger players ready to take the field this fall.
Sophomore Keenan Johnson and junior Merritt Crabtree return at inside linebacker after emerging as the starters last fall. Johnson had 74 tackles and three interceptions last fall to pace the Eagles in both categories, and Crabtree had 60 stops. Sophomore Tyler Lewis is the only other letterman at the position, opening the door for young players to earn playing time.
Offensively, it’s hoped that third time is charm for Stein at quarterback. Each of the past two seasons he’s begun the season as the starter, but was soon sidelined by freakish injuries.
Long said Stein had an excellent spring and adds that the Eagles are fortunate to have senior Matt Vinson, who has been the replacement at quarterback both seasons, also available.
“Matt has started 16 games, so he’s got a ton of experience,” Long said. “I’m looking forward to our quarterback play this season.”
The offensive line returns three starters, senior Matt Barden and juniors Jake Geil and Travis Romsa, who is moving from right to left tackle. Lettermen Adam Fuselier and Jared Maciejczak are expected to fill the remaining two slots.
Long, who is in charge of the offensive line, said several younger players gained valuable experience during the spring when Geil and Fuselier were recovering from surgery.
The Eagles are well-stocked at running back. Senior Derek Jackson and junior Kevin Coy run hard and have combined to carry the ball 517 times for 2,670 yards for a 5.1-yard average the last two seasons. Some explosiveness is expected from a pair of small, quick sophomores, Stevann Brown and Priest Jennings.
There’s just one senior in the receiving corps, but the coaches are excited about the potential there.
The senior, Jack Dobyns, had 29 catches for 245 yards last fall and his mate on the inside, sophomore Colt Foster, caught 22 for 189. On the outside, rangy Matt Reader, was a leader with 22 receptions for 394 yards and four touchdowns.
Logan Masters, who came to CSC as the receivers’ coach just before spring practice began, said his proteges showed they can both catch the ball and run with it.
Probably the Eagles’ most “wide open” areas are special teams, where punter Zach Smith and return specialist Cody Paul, both first-team all-conference choices last season, have graduated. Coordinator Craig Jersild is hoping transfer Zach Kozlik can fill the bill at punter and says several players with speed and sure hands will audition for the return duties.
Will Morgan, a true freshman last fall when he made four of six field goal attempts and 31 of 33 extra points, returns at placekicker.