Jacks’ seniors honored, Wieneke second for Jerry Rice Award

 

Since their season ended, Zach Zenner has led a group of fellow Jackrabbits in receiving recognition for their accomplishments both on the football field and in the classroom.

SDSU’s star running back won the Mickey Charles Award, honoring athletic achievement, and once again earned consensus first team All-American honors as well as being honored as an Academic All-Star along with fellow senior Jason Schneider.

“I’m not an honor guy,” said head coach John Stiegelmeier. “I’m not a guy who thinks in football individual honors are a big deal, but I did think Zach Zenner, his effort both academically and athletically, his efforts were rewarded in a lot of ways. … Jason Schneider, just like Zach – just a very talented student athlete who gave us everything he’s got academically and athletically.”

Battling injuries for most of the year, Schneider was unable to lead the Jackrabbits in receiving as he did last year, but redshirt freshman Jake Wieneke stepped up, earning All-American honors and finishing runner up for the Jerry Rice Award, which goes to the most outstanding freshman in the FCS.

“I felt Jake Wieneke finishing second in the Jerry Rice Award, that’s a neat acknowledgement of his ability and the year he had,” Stiegelmeier said.

Wieneke finished the season with 1404 yards and 16 touchdowns on 73 receptions.

In the midst of this, he initially found success catching balls from Zach Lujan who stepped up in week one after Austin Sumner went down against Missouri and then didn’t miss a beat in transitioning to Sumner’s passes when he returned later in the year, allowing Wieneke to finish the season as strong as he began it.

“Jake is just a special guy,” Stiegelmeier said. “When you throw the ball it doesn’t matter whose hand it comes out of, if you’re a receiver like Jake Wieneke. He’s going to find a way to make the play. Really, he aids any quarterback. He aids the quarterback in the sense that he’s so long and has such great body control. … He doesn’t miss a beat. He doesn’t think: we have a second string guy or we’re running the ball. He just plays hard and when his number’s called, he makes a play.”

When this dangerous offense failed to reach the end zone, SDSU always had a trusty backup plan inside their opponent’s 30 yard line. That plan was All-American kicker Justin Syrovatka who sent 19 of his 20 field goal attempts through the uprights.

“I’m really proud of Justin, maybe more proud of him than anybody on our team,” Stiegelmeier said. “He was a non-scholarship guy. He had some injury problems. And he literally worked his tail off to become an all-conference type kicker and helped us win a bunch of football games. I’m proud of that story. I’m proud of Justin.”

However, the one honor that Stiegelmeier and his team sought after most was one they did not get. Only this past weekend NDSU, who barely escaped the Jackrabbits in the playoffs was crowned National Champion for a fourth straight year, leaving SDSU to wonder: what if.

“There’s a feeling of we could’ve, should’ve, which is a positive and a negative,” Stiegelmeier said. “It hurts to know that that could have been us, but we know the game. We know the importance of every play and it’s just a reminder that in our situation we’ve got to play closer to perfect and make plays when we need to make plays, but I’m happy for the Missouri Valley Football Conference.”

Even if their season ended too soon for their aspirations, the Jackrabbits can still forever hold fond memories of this senior class, including Zenner, Schneider, Sumner, Syrovatka and others, who helped guide the program to new heights with their leadership.

“Any senior class hurts when they graduate,” Stiegelmeier said. “This one for whatever reason at this point in our career seems maybe to have had something really special about them. … The thing we’re going to miss most, in reality, is their leadership which took everybody to a new level.”