Refocused to reemerge


Rebounding from a 5-6 season won’t be easy, but SDSU has the tools to do it.

The 2010 version of the Jackrabbit football team fell short of expecta­tions.

After qualifying for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2009, the Jacks had a No. 9 pre­season ranking, lost each of their first four games and finished with their first losing season since 2001.

There may be even more ques­tions entering the 2011 campaign than last year. SDSU has no choice but to refocus and try to return to the top of the Missouri Valley Foot­ball Conference.

The Jacks have trusted Thomas O’Brien as the starting quarterback for the last 17 games and he’ll enter fall camp as the number one choice. O’Brien was less than impres­sive at times last year, throwing 15 interceptions against his 10 touch­downs.”

“We have smart players, we have players who are committed and they’ve done the work, so they need to go out and perform,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said.

The turnovers hurt the Jackrabbits last year, as SDSU finished the year minus-five in the category after fin­ishing plus-eight in that category in 2009. Winning the key category didn’t hurt the Jacks last year, as they went 4-1 when they had fewer turnovers than their opponent. Their only loss came at the hands of nationally-ranked Nebraska.

“We’re all accountable for our per­formance on the field and we know that taking care of the ball can win football games,” O’Brien said.

“Our emphasis has been great and defensively, we will be more aggres­sive. Our coaches have talked about takeaways and taking care of the football, and I would expect a pos­itive turnover ratio,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Jackrabbits defense will be in charge of the takeaways and Stiegelmeier says he will expect an aggressive defense, led by the line­backing duo of Mike Lien and Dirk Kool.

“We have to get better at the next move on the chess board,” Stiegel­meier said about his defensive unit, when facing up-tempo offenses.

SDSU loses Walter Payton Award finalist Kyle Minett to graduation but will move former running back Tyrel Kool back into the backfield to lead the rushing attack. The Jack­rabbits traditionally rely heavily on the running game and this sea­son should be no different, with an experienced offensive line provid­ing strength.

“That’s always been our plan and our vision. If the ‘fat guys’ get going and Tyrel runs well, he’ll have a great year,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Missouri Valley remains tough, but SDSU will be fortunate in having perennial powers North­ern Iowa, North Dakota State Uni­vesity and Southern Illinois visit Brookings in 2011.

“You always want to get better as a team and then you look at the other teams in the conference and every­one else is getting better. It’s a great level of football,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Jacks will open the season at home when they host former Great West ally Southern Utah on Sept. 3, before heading to Champaign, Ill., to meet Big Ten foe Illinois on Sept. 10.

“I think we have some guys who need to mature at certain positions because you can’t win in football unless you have 22 great guys, spe­cial teams and those guys behind them. I think we’ll have that,” Stiegelmeier said.