Back to basics


To the knowledge of few, the 2011 Jacks football season is underway.

SDSU can do without the attention.

The Jackrabbits offseason practices continue on campus, with little fanfare, as preparation for the 2011 season builds with questions to be answered.

“It’s one of my favorite times of the year because we get to come out and just work on our game and work on getting better. Everybody knows about the fall, but it’s the spring and the summer that will probably determine where we’ll end up next year,” said quarterback Thomas O’Brien.

According to linebacker Mike Lien, SDSU will try to get back to where they were in 2009, when the squad won eight games and made the FCS playoffs. The way to reach that, Lien said, is to start with the basics and the fundamentals.

“We don’t want to stay at the same level, we want to improve,” he said.

Coming off a 5-6 season that fell below the expectations of many, the Jackrabbits hit the field again with a renewed sense of focus and a desire to improve.

“We feel like this is a new team. History helps you learn from the past and we’re not expecting anything. We have to earn respect and we try to be 1-0 everyday on the field,” tight end Kyle Sheehan said.

Things have changed, as Tyrel Kool has moved to running back and has fit in well there. SDSU could have as many as seven returning starters on each side of the ball.

“With spring ball, everybody is hungry to get back and put the pads on and there was bad taste in our mouths from the end of last season,” Lien said.

The Jacks have started to work with the pistol formation, which puts the quarterback in a shorter shotgun look, with a tailback behind him. The offense was made popular at Nevada and combines spread offense elements with a power running attack.

“It’s not too much different. We’re still running the same formations and we’re just changing where the running back is. Some of the footwork is different and there’s some different schemes, but I think we’re doing well,” O’Brien said.

SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier says it is hard to assess who’s ahead of whom at this point, so the team tries to create game-like situations by playing out the result of each play during a scrimmage, instead of scripting each scenario.

“You have to be highly motivated because there is no true game that we are working towards. The effort has been tremendous. You can’t go full speed if you’re hesitating and not sure of what you’re doing and we’ve worked hard as a staff to keep it simple and get better fundamentally.”

The quarterback position was in doubt at the end of the 2010 season and many have wondered if the junior O’Brien would be in charge when the Jacks open the season against Southern Utah on Sept. 3, or if redshirt freshman Austin Sumner would challenge for the role.

“They get graded everyday. Thomas is number one and has the advantage because he takes most of the reps with the first team. He’s earned that and someone else will have to beat him out by making more plays or leading better, or being a little sharper,” Stiegelmeier said.

The head coach, who enters his 16th year at SDSU, isn’t worried about the lack of attention that comes with spring practice in South Dakota.

“Especially in our program, we don’t rally around having a lot of people around practice. We roll up our sleeves and go to work. Hopefully the culmination of this time is the spring game and people will come out and see where we’re at. Let [the students] study their chemistry and we’ll do our stuff out here.”

The Jackrabbits will hold their annual spring football game on April 16 at 1 p.m. at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.