South Dakota State University's Student-Run Independent Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Student-Run Independent Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Student-Run Independent Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

Running it Back

Western Oregon is first up for the defending National Champs
Joclyn Haven

After nearly nine months, the 2022 FCS National Champions will take the field once again for week one of the college football season for a Thursday night matchup against a Division II opponent at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are set to start their 2023 football campaign against Western Oregon Wolves on Aug. 31.

“I think it is a nameless, faceless opponent,” stated head coach Jimmy Rogers. “We got to take it that way every single week. It is about us giving our best and expecting the best out of ourselves.”

This will be the third Jacks-Wolves matchup in the school’s history. South Dakota State is currently 2-0 against Western Oregon with wins in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Last season couldn’t have gone any better for the Jacks: beating every FCS opponent, holding the No. 1 ranked spot for multiple weeks and beating their biggest rival in North Dakota State for their first ever FCS National Championship.

Going into the 2023 season, the Jacks sit comfortably at the No. 1 spot of the poll, thanks to the amount of talent they were able to keep on the team for the season.

Out of the starting skill positions on offense, the Jacks only lost Tucker Kraft, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. Though that may affect the team early on, backup tight end Zach Heins will be taking up the role as starter. 

Heins took the reins last season when Kraft was injured week 1 against Iowa. Though the first couple of games went slow for the Sioux Falls, SD native, Heins thrived in week 4 last season, putting up 127 yards on seven receptions and a touchdown. His production slowed when Kraft returned but he managed to rack up 347 yards and four touchdowns on the season. 

Quarterback Mark Gronowski gets his top-2 favorite targets back from last season with the Janke brothers, Jadon and Jaxon. Gronowski put up just under 3,000 yards last season while throwing 26 touchdowns with a 65.3% completion percentage. While ruling the sky, the 2022 FCS National Championship MVP also left his ‘Mark’ on the ground with 408 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

“Sky is the limit for that kid,” said Rogers. “He works his butt off, he’s a great leader in that quarterback group and a great leader on our team so I’m excited to see the step that he can take.”

Jaxon Janke put up 857 yards and nine touchdowns last season, leading SDSU in both categories while his twin brother Jadon followed behind at 774 yards and six touchdowns.

The 1-2 punch of Isaiah Davis and Amar Johnson are returning as well. Davis ran for 1,451 yards and 15 touchdowns while Johnson finished with 776 yards and saw the endzone seven times on the ground. Both also put up over 100 receiving yards last season along with a touchdown from Johnson.

The 605 Hogs, led by Garret Greenfield and Mason McCormick are returning as well. 

South Dakota State lost a key defensive player in Caleb Sanders last season. The former SDSU  defensive tackle joined another South Dakota State Alumni, Dallas Goedert on the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. 

Though the Jackrabbits have the majority of last season’s dominant defense returning. Jason Freeman led the Jacks last season in tackles with 84 total while Adam Bock followed close behind him with 76 while missing six weeks to injury. 

The former Nebraska Cornhusker Isaiah Stalbird saw a drop in production from 2021 to 2022 when Jacks acquired Freeman, but still showed his dominance with 55 tackles on the season in just 12 games.

With the loss of Malik Lofton, both DyShawn Gales and Dalys Beanum will have to step up their coverage even more. Last season, both cornerbacks made their talents known. Gales led the team in interceptions with four while Beanum led the cornerback position in tackles with 37 total on the year.

For Western Oregon, 6 foot 5 inch redshirt junior Gannon Winker will be sitting in the captain’s seat once again. Winker struggled last season throwing for 2,315 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with just over a 50% completion rate.

Running back Dominique Loggins will be getting the start for the Wolves in the backfield, a big change from last season with Western Oregon’s all-time rushing leader Omari Dixon-Land graduating. Loggins played in seven games in 2022 putting up only 77 yards without scoring a touchdown.

Though Western Oregon lost their starting running back, their 2022 leader in receptions and receiving yards will be returning to the gridiron for his redshirt-senior season. Wide receiver  Damon Hickok excelled for the Wolves last season where he racked up 677 yards on 44 catches while bringing two of those in for scores.

WOU brought in Brenden Hodge, a juco transfer who will be starting at wide receiver against SDSU. In the 2022 season for El Camino College, Hodge brought in 424 receiving yards and led the team in receptions with 43.

The Jackrabbit offense could prove to be a challenge for the Wolves since they lost their top-4 tacklers last season. Outside linebacker Isaiah Abraham is the man to watch on this defense.  Though missing last years’ week six game, Abraham pulled in 44 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and an interception.

Joining Abraham at outside linebacker is Malcolm Liufau, another dominant player for this Wolves’ defense. Last season, Liufau had 40 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks.

South Dakota State will then welcome Montana State to Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Sept. 9 for the rematch of the last two semifinal games at 6 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Marshall Minihan, Sports Editor
Sports Editor Marshall Minihan is a junior at South Dakota State University and is from Canton, South Dakota. He majors in journalism and minors in communication studies and recreation administration.

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