Isaiah Davis showcasing his skills as featured back

Now the main piece in the Jackrabbit rushing attack, the star tailback leads his team to the FCS semifinals.


Zoey Schentzel

South Dakota State’s Isaiah Davis stiff-arms Delaware’s Riah Burton in a FCS second-round playoff game at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

Marshall Minihan, Sports Reporter

Isaiah Davis has showcased his skills throughout his Jackrabbit career.

But South Dakota State’s star tailback has been the undisputed featured back for the first time this season and he leads his team to the semifinals of the Football Championship Playoffs against Montana State, the same team that knocked the Jacks out of the playoffs a year ago.

In that game, Davis was held to only 13 yards as the Jackrabbits fell 31-17 to the Bobcats in Bozeman.

Davis is coming into this season’s rematch having run for over 100 yards in SDSU’s first two playoff games. He ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns in SDSU’s 42-6 win against Delaware Dec. 3. In the quarterfinals against No. 8 Holy Cross last week, Davis was even better, running for 154 yards and a score as the Jacks won 42-21.

Before becoming a Jackrabbit, Davis played for Joplin High School in a town of just over 51,000 people in the Ozarks of Missouri. After not playing much during his first two years, Davis broke out in his junior year, rushing for 1,676 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Davis then followed up his impressive junior season with a historic season his senior year in 2019, rushing for 2,282 yards and scoring 45 touchdowns. That year, he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Missouri. And that season currently sits at No. 22 for most rushing yards in a season in Missouri state history.

After high school, one of the schools that recruited Davis was Missouri State, a fellow Missouri Valley Football Conference team, that wanted him to play linebacker.

“They recruited me to be a linebacker,” Davis said. “I went over there to a camp, ran a 40 and pulled my hamstring. I left that day with a hamstring injury and the coaches didn’t even really notice I pulled my hamstring. After that, I knew Missouri State wasn’t the place for me.”

Davis then decided to attend SDSU as a running back, even though the team already had a future NFL player at that position.

But that decision proved to be the right one for Davis, as he played in every game of his freshman season, sharing touches with Pierre Strong Jr. In that spring 2021 season, Davis broke out in a game against Western Illinois, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. The 6-foot-1-inch back would have three more 100-yard games, two of them coming in the playoffs.

In that postseason, the Jacks had home-field advantage and took it all the way to the national title game against Sam Houston. With quarterback Mark Gronowski leaving the game early with an injury, Davis carried the offense, rushing for 178 yards and three touchdowns.

Thanks to Davis’ heroics, the Jacks were within 20 seconds of winning the national title. But it wasn’t enough, as Davis and the Jacks fell short in Frisco in a 23-21 loss.

Despite the loss, it proved that Davis could play. He led the team in rushing yards that season with 818 and scored 10 touchdowns with Strong injured for part of the season and was named to the HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-America Team.

Coming into his sophomore season in the fall, Davis continued to share touches with Strong. Though in just his second game back, Davis suffered a shoulder injury that kept him off the field for eight games.

Strong took over the backfield and was one of the best backs in the nation, rushing for 100-plus yards in six of the eight games. Davis made his return in the regular-season finale, in a home game against North Dakota, where he ran for 64 yards.

As the Jacks began their playoff run the following week, Davis was back in full form, running all over the UC Davis defense with 217 yards on 15 carries, still his highest collegiate rushing performance.

The tailback would go on and have two more 100-yard games in the playoffs before SDSU’s playoff run ended in the semifinals. Despite missing more than half the season, Davis still finished the fall season with 701 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

Now in his junior season, Davis got the chance to fully showcase his abilities with Strong now in the NFL. In 12 games, he has put up 1190 and 13 touchdowns, with at least one more game for him to play this season.

Davis started this year slow, with only one 100-yard plus performance and 0 touchdowns in his first four games. After that, he put up 307 yards and five touchdowns in back-to-back games.

For the first time, Davis was included on the All-Conference First Team this season along with teammates Tucker Kraft, Garret Greenfield, Mason Mccormick, Caleb Sanders, Reece Winkelman, Adam Bock and Dyshawn Gales.

Being known for his work ethic, Davis has shown he can produce off the field as well, being named to the MVFC honor roll in both the 20-21 spring season and the 2021 season last year. He has proven to be a great example for the rest of the team.

“If there is a guy on our football team that is kind of a reference of taking care of their body, it’s Isaiah Davis,” said Jacks coach John Stiegelmeier. “As a true freshman in the spring season, he would go to the Wellness Center and do extra workouts. He is a guy that football is very important to and he has worked very hard to get to where he is.”

All that work has helped make Davis a powerful running back. He has shown day in and day out how physical he can be, mastering the stiff arm, as seen against Holy Cross last week

“I would say I was trying to be as physical as possible and then I was just trying it one day (stiff arm) and it worked,” Davis said. “The armbar is the move. I don’t have to juke on the run you know, just throw them on the ground and keep going.”

You can catch Davis and the top-seeded Jacks at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium facing No. 4 seed Montana State at 3:00 p.m.