Jacks compete in spring football game


Zoey Schentzel

SDSU quarterback, Jon Bell, is in a shotgun formation in the Jackrabbits’ annual spring game. Despite an early interception, the redshirt freshman showed some promise as the Jacks offense scored 57 points.

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor (He/Him)

South Dakota State concluded spring practices Saturday with its annual spring football game at the Sanford Jackrabbit Athletic Complex.

In the intrasquad scrimmage, the Jackrabbit offense rolled past the Jackrabbit defense 57-25 (with the defense scoring points via sacks, turnovers, negative yardage plays, etc.).

Numerous Jackrabbit starters did not play. Projected starting quarterback Mark Gronowski, wide receiver Landon Wolf, defensive end Quinton Hicks, defensive backs DyShawn Gales and Chase Norblade, among others, were held out to give other players key reps.

Even with Gronowski not playing, quarterbacks impressed. Sophomore Rudy Voss, a former walk-on who was primarily used as a short-yardage running quarterback last season, completed 13 of 26 passes for 176 yards and a 35-yard touchdown pass to Canyon Bauer.

Senior Keaton Heide was excellent Saturday, going 6-7 for 125 yards and three touchdowns. And despite throwing an early pick-six, redshirt freshman Jon Bell also showed some promise. Running backs and wide receivers impressed Saturday, showing they could add more depth to an already stacked offensive roster.

Kickers were a perfect 6-6 on field goals. Hunter Dustman connected on tries of 48, 36 and 40 yards, while Jack Green hit field goals of 28, 23 and 28 yards.

Another key takeaway from Saturday was that the defense needs to improve in certain areas. Coach John Stiegelmeier mentioned tackling and covering the deep ball as things the defense could improve on. Despite the offense exploiting those areas, the SDSU defense did make some plays, like redshirt freshman safety Ryan Swoger’s 45-yard pick-six.

SDSU will now look ahead to summer practices, concluding a spring season focused on transitioning to new leaders and coaches.

Four assistant coaches from last season have gone elsewhere. Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jason Eck is now the head coach at Idaho, and the Passing Game coordinator, Luke Schleusner, went with him. Co-defensive coordinator Brian Bergstrom is now the head coach at Winona State, and the assistant defensive line coach, Spencer Erikson, went with him.

The most significant coaching transition will come at the offensive coordinator position, with Zach Lujan taking Eck’s place in running the offense. Stiegelmeier knows that it will come with an expected change in play calling.

“It’s totally different,” Stiegelmeier said. “Whereas Jason (Eck) might have called a play-action pass on second and short a lot because you can kind of waste a down, Zach Lujan may run 90 percent of the time to get the first down and move on. Balling a game is an art; it’s an instinctual thing.”

Along with the change at the offensive coordinator, Ryan Olson moves from tight ends coach to offensive line coach. He takes over an offensive line unit moving on from veterans Wes Genant, Aron Johnson and Eegan Lickiss.

Other key Jackrabbits who moved on were quarterback Chris Oladokun, running back Pierre Strong Jr., linebacker Logan Backhaus, cornerback Don Gardner and safety Michael Griffin. Still, Stiegelmeier looks forward to the challenges of filling those roles.

“Every time you lose a player or every time you lose a coach, as a head coach, you have to have this attitude,” Stiegelmeier said. “It’s an opportunity for us to improve our program.”

But even with those players leaving, the Jackrabbits expect to have other key players returning from injury. Gronowski is pretty much recovered from the knee injury he suffered last spring that kept him out of the fall season.

Other key players returning are Wolf, who suffered a knee injury early last season, and running back Isaiah Davis, who missed eight weeks in the middle of the season before returning for the FCS playoffs.

“It’s good to have them back,” Stiegelmeier said. “Their presence, their leadership and their ability are really good, and we’ll build on that.”