Ask and you shall receive

Adam Zobel

Adam Zobel

If the casual fan has not paid much attention to the Jackrabbit football squad recently, they may be surprised to discover that SDSU has developed a potent passing attack as they move into Division I-AA this season.

When John Stiegelmeier became head coach of the SDSU football program for the 1997 season, the Jackrabbit offense featured a physical, two-back set that was built around All-American running back Josh Ranek. Following Ranek’s departure after the 2001 season, SDSU switched to a single-back offense with two to three wide receivers and one to two tight ends out of a spread formation. The Jackrabbits did not have a fullback on their roster last year, opting to employ a tight end and/or lineman in the backfield during short yardage situations.

This passing attack is built around quarterback Brad Nelson, and wide receivers Josh Davis, Solomon Johnson, and Brian Janecek. Nelson assumed the starter’s role last year and put forth one of the best passing seasons in Jackrabbit history while Davis has emerged over the last two seasons as one of the top receivers to ever don a SDSU uniform. Johnson, one of the team’s co-captains, is a solid number two receiver, while Janecek has emerged as a solid third option for Nelson.

The passing attack reached full steam during the last half of the season as the Jacks ran off five straight wins to finish their time in Division II. The attention grew this summer as Nelson and Davis were named to the Great West Football Conference’s preseason team.

Despite the accolades, Nelson downplays the media attention.

“The hype doesn’t mean anything,” Nelson said. “We all have something to prove.”

Nelson is a quarterback in the Troy Aikman mode, having a strong, precise arm, but lacking the mobility that is seen in many quarterbacks today. Consequently, his wide receivers need to have a high awareness level to adjust their routes so Nelson can get rid of the football before being sacked.

“I’m really fortunate to have these receivers,” Nelson said. “They make you look a lot better.”

Nelson garners praise from his receiving corps for his precise passing, as he is able to “thread the needle” and throw the football into a tight area.

“He can make you open when you’re not open,” Johnson said.

The receivers have been able to work with Nelson to develop an understanding that allows them to take advantage of defensive formations and turn an ordinary play into a game-turning score.

“He knows where I’m going to be,” Davis said.

The closeness of the receiving corps also plays a major role in the success of the SDSU passing attack. This cohesiveness on and off the field starts with wide receivers coach Kris Garry, a former SDSU wide receiver and football coaching graduate assistant. Garry was Johnson’s travel roommate during Johnson’s freshman season.

Given the closeness of this group, it is no surprise that all three have had the same football role model while growing up: future NFL Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice of the Oakland Raiders, a player who is admired for his famed work ethic.

Even after spending countless hours during the week practicing and preparing for the season, the receivers have been close friends off the field throughout their years at SDSU.

“They’re basically my brothers,” Davis said.

Despite the attention they have garnered, Nelson and his receivers know that they still have to go out every Saturday and play hard to give SDSU its best chance to win in their first Division I-AA season. They also are aware that last season may have only been the opening act to a high-powered Jackrabbit passing attack.

“The sky’s the limit for us this year,” Nelson said.