Coming off of a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) semifinals and the graduation of two players to the NFL, hopes for South Dakota State’s success are high, according to head coach John Stiegelmeier.
In the NCAA FCS preseason poll, the Jacks are ranked third behind North Dakota State and James Madison University.
For the Jacks, this season will be an opportunity to build on last year’s results.
“We stopped at the semifinals and there are two steps to go,” Stiegelmeier said. “Do everything we can to get to Frisco and be successful there.”
It’ll be a new look offense for the Jacks.
The loss of Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert could impact the entire offense this season.
“We (offense) will be more diversified without a doubt,” Stiegelmeier said. “For a defensive coordinator, it might be a little easier because he won’t necessarily have to worry about two guys with NFL ability on the field at the same time. Ideally, we will make it hard on the defensive coordinators, somehow, someway.”
With the loss of Wieneke and Goedert, the receiving corps has changed. Instead of focusing on two targets, it will be a wide receiver by committee.
Senior Alex Wilde, juniors Jacob Brown, Marquise Lewis, Adam Anderson and sophomore Cade Johnson are set to share reps.
“They will all get reps and they will do a really good job,” Stiegelmeier said.
Kallan Hart, a junior, will take over the tight end duties.
Last year, Hart played in all 14 games and caught two passes for 30 yards. When Hart was on the field, he was primarily used as a blocking tight end, unlike Goedert, who was used as a receiving tight end.
Freshman tight end Blake Kunz impressed coaches during camps and has earned an opportunity to get meaningful playing time this season, according to Stiegelmeier.
Despite some familiar faces missing from the starting lineup, there will be a veteran under center this season.
Taryn Christion is entering his senior year as starting quarterback. As a starter, Christion has a 23-8 record and holds the school’s records for touchdown passes and total offensive yards. Christion has played 35 games and has thrown 72 touchdowns for 8,515 yards in his career.
“I expect Taryn to have his best year, I expect him to continue to be the great leader he is,” Stiegelmeier said. “I don’t want to put so much pressure on him that he can’t play, I want him to play free.”
The Jacks lost their top rushing option, Brady Mengarelli to graduation, but will return key contributors in Isaac Wallace and Mikey Daniel. Since they have some key contributors returning, the rushing game could once again become the offensive focal point.
“I always want to run the ball, but you have to do what your strength is,” Stiegelmeier said.
On the offensive line, two seniors and a trio of juniors will be returning. During the offseason camp, there was a chance for the offensive line to get to know each other better and play together more effectively.
“They are gelling, getting better, they are good players but all the twists, blitzes and ups, it takes a lot of work,” Stiegelmeier said. “I’m glad we have two more weeks before game time.”
Defensively, the Jacks return a few familiar faces.
The linebacking corps is highlighted by returners such as seniors Dalton Cox and Eric Kleinschmit, junior Christian Rozeboom and sophomores Logan Backhaus and Seven Wilson.
In the secondary, the Jacks return cornerbacks senior Jordan Brown and juniors Marshon Harris and Zy Mosley, despite losing veteran Anthony Washington to graduation last year. All three players have had meaningful playing time in previous years.
On the defensive line, the Jacks lost Kellen Soulek and Mason Leiseth to graduation.
Ryan Earith, who made 40 tackles last season and had five sacks, will be returning to defensive end.
Special teams will also return upperclassmen.
All-American and junior kicker Chase Vinatieri will return to the special teams. Senior punter Brady Hale will return for his fourth and final year. Sophomore long snapper Bradey Sorenson will return after a strong 2017 season.
“An All-American kicker back, a great punter back, a snapper who didn’t have one bad snap last year and combine that with all the guys that play,” Stiegelmeier said. “I don’t think people realize the impact that can have.”
The Jacks start their season on Sept. 1 in Ames, Iowa, where they will face the Iowa State Cyclones. The preview for that game will be in next week’s edition.