He’s been on crutches for awhile now, yet Eric Brock can’t help but smile.
Brock will enter his eighth season as head football coach at Haskell Indian Nations University with practically every one of his skill players returning.
“And most of those guys have been here all summer working out,” Brock said.
Unlike Brock, those players remained injury-free. While participating in a pick-up basketball game on campus three weeks ago, Brock tore an Achilles tendon in his left ankle and will have to conduct preseason practices in a walking boot for awhile.
Haskell’s players are scheduled to report today, undergo testing on Monday, then start three-a-day drills on Tuesday. HINU’s opener will be Aug. 29 at Trinity (N.D.) Bible College.
Back for the Fightin’ Indians are quarterback Ryan Alden, running back Malcolm Coleman, wide receiver Casey Wilson and H-Back Quentin Haynes.
Alden, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore from Walla Walla, Wash., had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde freshman year. When he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad he was … whew.
“He was a double-edged sword,” Brock said. “He was typical of a true freshman who was thrown in there. Against Lincoln (University), he threw five touchdown passes, but he also threw five interceptions.”
During the 2-9 season, Alden unloaded for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he also had 20 passes stolen. Back-up Victor Ramos, who also returns, threw five TD passes with 10 interceptions.
In fact, Haskell threw more interceptions (32) than any other NAIA school in the country.
Wilson, a 6-0, 180-pound junior from Forney, Texas, was the Tribe’s leading receiver with 58 catches for 1,030 yards and eight TDs.
Haynes, a 5-10, 190-pound junior from Montrose, Colo., had 40 receptions for 537 yards and five TDs. Haynes was also the second-leading rusher with 336 yards.
Coleman, a 5-9, 200-pound sophomore from San Diego, Calif., was the leading ball-carrier with 396 yards as the Indians struggled to mount a complementary running attack.
“We had some O-line issues last year,” Brock said. “We’d like to run more … if we can find some offensive linemen.”
Haskell is solid at center with Jered Jones and at one tackle spot with Adam Staley, but both guards and the other tackle slots are wide open. The 5-11, 225-pound Jones and the 6-3, 300-pound Staley are, incidentally, the lone seniors on the roster.
“We have about 35 new guys coming in,” Brock said. “I think a handful will help, and we’re looking at offensive linemen first.”
Haskell’s ‘08 defense was, to put it politely, porous, although the turnover-prone offense contributed to Haskell surrendering more points (473) than any other NAIA school.
“You look back and you say, ‘Are we that bad?’” Brock said, “or was it a case of bad field position and turnovers? Regardless, I’m in charge of the defense and I felt we played very poorly.”
One of the few bright spots was Greg Nilges, a 5-10, 175-pound rover back from Santa Fe Trail High who led the Indians with 120 tackles as a red-shirt freshman.
“I’m not sure how we’ll use Nilges this year,” Brock said, “but he’s smart enough to play anywhere.”
Haskell has a pair of solid defensive backs in soph Tarell Ramsey, who led the team with four interceptions in and 10 passes broken up, and junior Lakota Nez.
HINU’s 11-game schedule — seven at home — features four first-time foes in Rhodes, Westminster, Kansas Wesleyan and New Mexico Prep.
Also new this fall will be Haskell Stadium being used exclusively by the Indians now that Lawrence High and Free State High have their own facilities.
“I’ll miss being able to walk out on a Friday night and not see a (high school) game being played,” Brock said. “but with only seven games the field will obviously hold up better.”