Jacks prepare for 2017 season with spring practices

By ANDREW HOLTAN Sports Editor

After a successful 2016 season, the South Dakota State football team is gearing up for the 2017 season with spring practices.

The Jacks finished the 2016 season with an overall record of 9-4 and won the Missouri Valley Football Conference for the first time. They also beat Villanova 14-7 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs before falling to North Dakota State in the quarterfinals 36-10.

SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier will be entering his 21st season and although they had arguably their best season last year, he expects them to be better in 2017.

“I’m really excited about the improvements we’ve made and looking forward to continued improvements,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Jacks will be returning three of their most productive players on both sides of the ball for 2017.

Wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert will be seniors and both had record-setting seasons in 2016. Wieneke had 78 receptions for 1,316 yards and 16 touchdowns. The 16 touchdowns tied the single season SDSU record set by Wieneke in 2014. 

Goedert had 92 receptions for 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 92 receptions were a new SDSU single-season record. Goedert was also named FCS All-American and was a finalist for the Walter Payton award, which is awarded to the most outstanding player in the FCS.

Goedert and Wieneke could not have put up these numbers if it weren’t for quarterback Taryn Christion, who will be entering his junior season.

In his sophomore season, Christion threw for 3,714 yards on 229 completions and had 30 passing touchdowns. 

He tied the SDSU single season record for passing touchdowns and set SDSU’s single season record for total yards with 4,049. He was named the 2016 Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts.

Spring practices are not for established players. They are for members of the team who are looking to make a splash and get the attention of the coaching staff to potentially give them a starting position in 2016. 

“The real goal of spring practice is to figure out your depth chart,” Stiegelmeier said. “We have 27 guys that we don’t really know much about. We don’t know if they know the defense or offense and we don’t know if they are going to be able to make a play because they were scout team guys.”

Stiegelmeier said there are a few players that have really impressed him during practice. One of them is junior safety Alex Romenesko, who missed all of 2016. 

“He’s not a young guy in our program,” Stiegelmeier said. “But he’s come back and is giving everything he’s got. He lost his sister to cancer last year and I think his motivation is different than many.”

The Jacks will need Romenesko after losing three starters to graduation; safety Nick Mears, linebacker Jesse Bobbit and defensive tackle Cole Langer.

“We lost a number of guys, but those three in particular are hard to replace,” Stiegelmeier said. “Mears’ leadership and smarts on the field. Bobbit’s effort and Langer’s pure ability. It always happens this way, so guys are stepping up. Kellen Soulek is a guy who I think can dominate the defensive line position.”

Soulek is heading into his senior season, leading the Jacks with 7.5 sacks in 2016.

SDSU will also return middle linebacker Christian Rozeboom, who led the Jacks in tackles last year with 132 tackles. He was also named Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year and was a runner-up for the Jerry Rice Award, which is given to the best freshman in the FCS.

Stiegelmeier said that there was a different mentality at practice this year. That mentality is “practice like you play.”

“What we’ve done on our scrimmage days is, we’ve given them a goal and grade them on it.” Stiegelmeier said. “One day they’ll get 90 percent then the next day they’ll get 92 percent.”

Academically, 92 percent doesn’t sound bad, Stiegelmeier said. But on the football field anything less than 100 percent doesn’t cut it. Still, he thinks that the coaches are doing a great job at teaching.

The Jacks will conclude spring practices with their annual spring game at 10 a.m. April 22, at Dana. J Dykhouse Stadium. Entry is free for fans and all levels of the stadium will be open.