Jackrabbit superfan follows his alma mater into national title game

Keith Jensen has supported Jackrabbit sports for more than half a century. Now he’s in Frisco, hoping the Jacks can deliver a championship


Skyler Jackson

Keith Jensen with his wife Cherie at the SDSU alumni pep rally Jan. 7 at Frisco Hall.

Skyler Jackson, Co-Sports Editor (He/Him)

Keith Jensen has been an avid follower of South Dakota State athletics for over 70 years.

The self-proclaimed “Jacks number 1 fan” arrived in Frisco, Texas Thursday with his wife Cherie to watch his alma mater take on North Dakota State in the FCS national championship game Sunday at Toyota Stadium.

While Jensen has seen just about every historical Jackrabbit achievement, he said witnessing the program’s first-ever football championship, especially against the rival Bison, would rank higher than anything else he’s seen.

“You have to say a national championship is the ultimate,” the 88-year-old Lake Preston native said. “There’s no other answer for that than the national championship.”

Jensen graduated from SDSU in 1956 before living out of state. He returned to Brookings in 1971 and has been a Jackrabbit season ticket holder ever since. In all that time, the SDSU campus and the atmosphere around Jackrabbit athletics have undergone quite a few changes.

“I think we only had 1800 students at the time when I came,” he said. “So the campus was smaller, it didn’t have a lot of the buildings that we have now and didn’t have nearly as many students as we have now. So the growth of SDSU has come a long way since I enrolled.”

Jensen was SDSU’s first alumni director in 1971 and worked there for nine years. From there he became manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association in 1981 and worked there until his retirement in 2006.

Since retiring, Jensen continued to support the Jackrabbits. He doesn’t travel as much as he used to, but Jensen still makes sure to attend every home football game and manages to make some trips here and there.

“I’m 88 years old. I’m not traveling quite as much as I was in the last five or 10 years, the last couple of years has been a little more questionable,” Jensen said. “I make a few football trips and a few basketball trips, certainly the ones that are close.”

During this football season, Jensen traveled to Springfield, Missouri to watch the Jacks blow out the Bears and went to Cedar Falls and saw the Jacks narrowly escape the Panthers.

While the trip to Frisco wasn’t that close to Brookings, Jensen knew he couldn’t miss his alma mater potentially winning a national championship.

He was in Frisco when the Jackrabbits made it there in the spring 2021 season. Jensen watched as the Jackrabbits fell 16 seconds short of the national championship.

“When (Mark) Gronowski went down, my heart just took a dip,” he said. “I think we would have been the national champion, I’m sure we would have. We just had to struggle a little more because we lost our starting quarterback right away.”

Jensen is hoping SDSU can deliver the program’s first national title on his second visit and he’s confident the Jackrabbits will get it done. But he also recognizes the challenge North Dakota State presents.

“Certainly both teams, I believe, are capable of winning and they have the ability to win this game,” Jensen said. “But I believe we’re going to do the job. I’ll be very excited if we can win that national championship period, regardless of who we’re playing.”

While he admitted it was difficult to pick a favorite football game, Jensen highlighted SDSU’s recent success in the Dakota Marker rivalry. He hasn’t missed the annual game since the trophy was introduced in 2004, the year both teams moved up to Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

When the Jackrabbits made that move, Jensen wasn’t originally in favor. But a conversation with then-athletic director Fred Oien changed his mind.

“I said ‘somebody’s going to have to convince me’” Jensen said. “And I was very good friends with (Oien), so I went over to his house one day and said, ‘tell me why we should make this move.’ And he convinced me, and I think everything he told me has borne out to be true.”

Since then, the Jackrabbits have built their program into one of the best and most nationally recognized in the FCS, something Jensen said nobody saw coming. But he is proud of how far the football program and the university have come.

“It means a lot to me because I believe it elevates our school to its proper level in the institution of universities in the United States,” Jensen said. “The university I’m proud of has grown a great reputation along with the growth in students in the years that have gone by.”

Cheering for the Jackrabbits has always been meaningful for Jensen since he first attended SDSU 71 years ago. And he still supports the university as much as he ever has before.

“I love the school,” he said. “The recognition that the school I graduated from and love so much just enhances that tremendously. I just get more and more proud.”