Building a national powerhouse: putting Brookings on the map




Brookings is the fourth-largest town in the state of South Dakota. It’s not a major city, nor is it a major vacation destination, but it has become a major destination for heavily-recruited football players to come play for John Stiegelmeier and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. 

The Jacks have become one of the premier teams in the Division I-AA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Last year, they knocked off North Dakota State, who won the FCS Championship the five previous seasons, and won a share of their first-ever Missouri Valley Conference Championship title. SDSU also hosted a playoff game and earned its highest STATS FCS Top 25 preseason ranking in program history at No. 4. 

With all that success, the Jacks were rewarded with a brand-new stadium in Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium to accompany their brand-new training facilities with the Sanford Jackrabbit Athletic Complex and the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center. 

Both of those have resulted in the Jacks getting players from all over the country and players that would normally choose bigger schools 

The Jacks were ranked 16th in’s Top 50 FCS Recruiting Classes of 2017. Three teams that are on SDSU’s schedule this year were also placed in the top 20 for recruiting: NDSU, South Dakota and Montana State.

SDSU’s biggest commit to date was Daniel Callender, a defensive end from Yuma, Arizona, who was the No. 65 defensive end recruit in’s 2017 Division I Rankings. Callender had offers from Illinois, USD, Wyoming, Hawaii and Arizona State. 

“The final straw was coming here for the visit,” Callender said. “Once I came here, I canceled all my other FBS visits. This was my only FCS school that I visited and I loved every second of it and knew I wanted to play here.”

A lot of the Division I-A Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams pride themselves on their state-of-the-art facilities, chances of winning a national championship and the ability to send players to a NFL roster. 

With the new stadium, SJAC and Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center, SDSU seems on the right track to being at that level. For Callender, however, the facilities were just the “cherry on top.”

“As cool as the new facilities are, they weren’t the major factor in my decision,” Callender said. “I came here because I loved the coaching staff, the team, the college itself and the town. It felt like home to me, plus we are ranked top five in the FCS and I have a better shot at winning a title here than any of the FBS schools that gave me an offer.”

The recruiting process for Callender and starting quarterback Taryn Christion were the same. Recruiters were invested and contacted them non-stop to see how they were doing in school or how their senior season was or even how their family was.

“They [SDSU] were going to invest in me,” Christion said. “They always check to see how your family is doing, they take the time to get to know you as a man instead of just a player. I loved Coach [Daniel] Jackson’s attitude when he came and visited me my sophomore year.”

Recruiting Coordinator and Cornerbacks Coach Jackson said the recruiting process for the athletes has changed over the years, like how to contact them and when they commit to a school.

“Facebook was the best way to contact them and follow them to judge their character and personality,” Jackson said. “Now kids hardly use Facebook. Also, springtime of their junior year is when teams offer most scholarships and kids are committing to their school before their senior year.” 

Jackson said  technology has also changed recruiting because SDSU creates personalized graphics of athletes to post on social media to make them feel special and reassure them that the team wants them.

Dec. 20 is the new signing period for athletes, but if an athlete doesn’t sign a letter of intent they can also do it on the first Wednesday of February to make their commitment official.

Before all of this, coaches have to manually find the athlete through a website like Hudl Recruit, National Preps or by simply emailing high school football coaches and asking for their best players.

“We go to Iowa’s camp, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas’ camps,” Jackson said. “They will let us in if we aren’t competition for them. Once we find them, we heavily push our summer camps so they can get a feel for our coaches and so we can see how they do in different drills.”

Head Coach John Stiegelmeier said that he doesn’t want the athletes that commit to SDSU to second-guess their choice.

“We want them to feel like this was the perfect choice,” Stiegelmeier said. “If they get talked into coming here they won’t feel like this is the right choice. We want them to feel like this is their second home.”

Stiegelmeier, who is entering his 21st season as head coach, said it’s nice to balance all the different personalities on a team with the different personalities of the coaching staff. That’s what makes recruiting athletes a whole lot easier, he said.

“21 years ago, we didn’t offer an athlete a scholarship until we sat in their home in December,” Stiegelmeier said. “Now we can give them much more information electronically, get them on campus more times, have them for camps to coach them and it also helps that we are Division I because some players think they are only Division I players and wouldn’t talk to us when we were Division II.”

With a new stadium and state-of-the-art training facilities, the Jacks have gone from a little-known school in South Dakota to a FCS National Championship contender.