5 things to look for at Spring Game

Trenton Abrego, Sports Editor

Following a 44-21 Football Championship Subdivision semifinal loss to the North Dakota State Bison, South Dakota State will kick off another season this weekend.

On Saturday, April 13, the annual spring game will take place – giving Jackrabbit fans a chance to watch the new-look Jackrabbits.

It’ll be quite the transformation for head coach John Stieglemeier and company.

Here are five things to look for as the Jackrabbits begin the 2019-20 season.

New faces on the sideline

During the offseason, Eric Eidsness, the associate head coach and offensive coordinator, headed to Northern Illinois. Eidsness took over as the offensive coordinator for the Huskies.

Clint Brown, who served for the Jackrabbit defensive coordinator for 10 years, took a job at Abilene Christian. Brown will serve as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator.

Jason Eck, who previously served as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator, was promoted to the offensive coordinator position after Eidsness left.

Brian Bergstrom, who was hired to the South Dakota State staff in March 2017, took over as a co-defensive coordinator. Jimmy Rogers, who has been on the Jackrabbit staff since 2013 also was promoted to co-defensive coordinator.

Other key losses

South Dakota State graduated three all-Missouri Valley Football Conference first team members. Taryn Christion, Tiano Pupungatoa and Jordan Brown were the three Jackrabbits who graduated.

Jordan Brown attended the NFL Draft Combine and is hopeful to hear his name called during the 2019 NFL Draft. In his four years as a Jackrabbit, Brown played in 51 games in which he racked up 148 tackles, four forced fumbles and eight interceptions. The Arizona native played as the No. 1 cornerback on the Jackrabbit squad.  

Quarterback battle

The Jackrabbits will lose Taryn Christion, who toppled three offensive stats in Missouri Valley Conference history (passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense) to graduation. Christion is also the Jacks’ all-time leader in both completions and attempts.

Under the reign of Christion, the Jackrabbits went 33-11.

Now, the Jackrabbits will look to fill that hole.

Currently, there are five quarterbacks on the Jackrabbits’ roster. Two of the emerging candidates to fill the void left by Christion are J’Bore Gibbs and Kurt Walding.

Gibbs, a redshirt freshman led Wendell Phillips Academy High School to two Illinois state titles. As a senior, Gibbs passed for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Gibbs also ran for more than 600 yards and seven touchdowns.

Kurt Walding, a junior from Des Moines, Iowa, is a transfer from Arizona State. Before transferring to the Sun Devils, Walding was at Iowa Western Community College where he threw for 624 yards and six touchdowns. At Arizona State, Walding didn’t play a game, despite being thought as a candidate for the backup position.

Veteran wide receivers

Last season, it was Cade Johnson who stepped up for the South Dakota State wide receiving corps.

Johnson finished the year with 67 receptions for 1,332 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Adam Anderson is also returning for the Jackrabbits and was the second-leading receiver with 718 yards for 47 receptions and seven touchdowns.

The top-five receiving leaders will return for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

Running game

Last year, Pierre Strong emerged as the lead back for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Little Rock, Arkansas native ran for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns on 117 carries. Strong was selected as the Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year.

Mikey Daniel served as the secondary back and put together a solid junior campaign in which he ran for 630 yards and 10 touchdowns on 139 yards.

South Dakota State will be without its third and fourth leading rushers last year in Isaac Wallace and Taryn Christion. Wallace suffered a collegiate-ending injury against Youngstown State.

Last season, C.J. Wilson ran for 281 yards and a touchdown on 43 carries.

Jefferson Lee, V is a redshirt freshman for the Jackrabbits who hasn’t seen action yet.

Other than Lee, every running back has seen time on the gridiron.

To open the regular season, South Dakota State will travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers.