Jun. 24—Kent Van Overschelde loves the physicality of football and Mitchell High School is built on initiating contact.
But after missing an entire season of summer workouts last year, Van Overschelde believes his program may have been more efficient without offseason contact. The Kernels usually attend a variety of camps, some of which include full pads. However, missing those camps last season seemed to make his players more eager for contact once fall practices began.
In the past, players got accustomed to hitting during camps, but had to throttle back during fall practice to comply with South Dakota High School Activities Association regulations and the excitement was curbed.
Mitchell conducts its usual Monday night football practices without pads and attended the Dakota Wesleyan University team camp Wednesday. But aside from a lineman camp in July, the Kernels will not conduct any physical contact until practice begins on Aug. 9, allowing players to build an appetite at the right moment.
"I thought coming into the (2020) season we were prepared physically and I thought we adjusted well to the contact despite the fact that we didn't have any last summer," said Van Overschelde, who is entering his 15th season as Mitchell head coach. "I think we adjust to that rather than trying to grind it out. The body can only handle so much. After the third day, when you finally get to put the pads on, I want the guys to be excited and I thought we had that a year ago."
Instead of actually tackling, Mitchell has revised its tackling techniques during the offseason in hopes of improving defensively. The Kernels surrendered 28.7 points per game last season, including at least 30 in the final seven games.
Not only is Mitchell looking to improve on technique to avoid injuries and bringing down ball carriers, but also angles and pursuit. Van Overschelde believes that will limit yardage as more players can attack the ball carrier in an efficient manner.
"We're trying to explain team defense from a standpoint of angles and positioning," Van Overschelde said. "We were able to develop on a program called Vice tackling, which incorporates the team tackling aspect, but what we've been working on the last 10 years to eliminate the head in tackling and being safer."
The Kernels are also looking to gain a better grasp of their offensive system as line coach Eric Witte has also taken over play calling duties after Joe Kramer spent the last two seasons as offensive coordinator. The offense will not change drastically, but could appear more similar to the offense they used in a 34-27 loss to Pierre in the Class 11AA quarterfinals.
More of an emphasis will be placed on quarterbacks Treyson Schulz and Tucker Vilhauer, who will split time this season. Schulz went 5-for-25 for 135 yards in seven appearances last year as a sophomore, while Vilhauer ran for 990 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season as the starter.
Mitchell will also have Josh Grosdidier — who should be ready for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery — after a breakout campaign of 432 yards and 13 touchdowns. Van Overschelde is also excited about the improvement of Jace Larson, Lukas Bennett and A.J. Siemsen on the outside.
"We're just trying to develop a little more diversity in our offensive scheme and I think that's our process at this point," Van Overschelde said. "We want to do those bread and butter things, but expand and give us an opportunity to adjust to every situation. We want to expand on where we ended last season."
Mitchell opens the season against Spearfish on Aug. 27 at Joe Quintal Field.