Jacks to rely on defense, reinvent offense in 2002

Krista Tschetter

Krista Tschetter

The South Dakota State University football team will try to fill an offensive void and rely heavily on their defensive game during the 2002 season, according to head coach John Stiegelmeier.

The Jackrabbit defense boasts eight returning starters, and also has some depth in its lettermen.

“Defense is going to be the strength of our team,” Stiegelmeier said. “Right now we’ve got the best crew of linebackers we’ve ever had here.”

Senior linebackers Brandon Thiesse, Jeff Schultz and Phil Oksness, as well as sophomore Chris Coauette return strong.

Senior Kyle Haroldson, who led the Jacks in tackles in 2000, was sidelined by an injury last year after only two games, but will be an asset if he comes back healthy.

The line will return four tackles, and the secondary has returning corners and safeties.

“The defense is under a lot of pressure,” Stiegelmeier said. “We need to stay healthy because we’re not real deep at a lot of positions.”

Offensively, the Jacks will be transitioning in 2002.

The graduation of All-American running back Josh Ranek and three top wide receivers left some big shoes to fill.

“When you have a great player like Ranek it affects your team,” said Stiegelmeier. “Everybody has to step it up from the inside.”

Senior Scott Nedved, who spent three years behind Ranek, will step up as wide receiver.

Surprising newcomer James O’Neill, who played Jackrabbit baseball and placed in the NCC 100 meter dash last year, decided to try his hand at a third SDSU sport. He came out of spring ball at number two.

The offensive line also has its share of promising newcomers, namely transfers from Hawaii and California. At 305 and 350 lbs.. respectively, Juniors Whiston Kaleimamahu and Raymond Kelso are sure to provide some sheer man power on the line.

Senior Dan Fjeldheim, who holds the SDSU single-season record for completions, returns at quarterback.

In the special teams area, Senior Jason Langland is back at punter.

Who will be kicker is still uncertain, but recruits Keith Witt and Andy Pick are promising candidates.

Overall, Stiegelmeier believes what the team lost in experience is compensated by a high level of athleticism.

“We’re playing at a higher level of intensity,” said Stiegelmeier. “We will be a physical football team … that’s the way to go with the NCC.”

Suffering five of last year’s six losses on the road, the Jacks will benefit from a 2002 schedule that gives them a home-field advantage over their toughest competitors.

In light of this, Northern Colorado will be the team to beat.

They are the only top team the Jacks have to play on the road.

At home, Stiegelmeier is banking on the excitement of more night games and the support of a strong fan base.

“We look forward to the great crowd we have become accustomed to,” said Stiegelmeier.

SDSU is ranked 5th in the NCC coaches poll for the 2002 season.

Football action at SDSU kicks off Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. in Coughlin-Alumni Stadium against Chadron State.