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South Dakota State ready to beat expectations
A Selby native has questions for his football players when they report to fall camp this weekend.
“We are wondering what kind of football team we are going to have,” said South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier. “We lost a number of good players in the last two years. Guys who were great leaders - nine guys who had NFL tryouts. So we have been wondering a bunch about who is going to step up.”
SDSU finished an up-and-down 2010 season with a 5-6 record, but managed to finish in a six-way tie for the third spot in the Missouri Valley Football Conference at 4-4. Stiegelmeier said, “As a staff, we are asking ourselves, ‘How do we become the best football team we can be with the guys we have?’”
Expectations from outside the SDSU program are not high. The Jacks are picked to finish fourth in their league and preseason honors for SDSU players and the team have been few and far between.
The Jackrabbits’ five-game home schedule at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in Brookings kicks off with the season opener at 6 p.m. Sept. 3 against Southern Utah in the 16th annual Cereal Bowl. SDSU is celebrating its 50th anniversary for the stadium.
On offense, SDSU is scheduled to put the ball in the hands of junior quarterback Thomas O’Brien of Winona, Minn. “He needs to play better and to take care of the football,” said Stiegelmeier. “He needs to mature. He has played a lot of football for us and this is the year he needs to put his foot down and make plays. We can do that because we have a really good, experienced offensive line in front of him.”
In an attempt to pick up the slack from losing last year’s top two rushers to graduation, All-American Kyle Minett and Tyler Duffy, the team’s leading receiver from a year ago is moving to tailback. Junior Tyrel Kool of Yankton was an honorable mention all-MVFC selection after recording 64 receptions for 808 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2010.
On defense for SDSU, “it all starts with our linebackers,” said Stiegelmeier. “There is a lot of maturity there, and they need to play great football.”
The task of replacing all-conference punter Dean Priddy will fall on the shoulders of either freshman Ethan Sawyer (Brandon) or senior Jason Schlautman (Columbus, Neb.), a transfer from Nebraska-Omaha. Senior Kyle Harris (Florissant, Mo.) likely will handle the place kicking duties.
“Historically we have had good special teams and we expect the same this year,” said Stiegelmeier. “We spend a lot of time on that.”
Two areas where Stiegelmeier is looking for improvement:
· “We want to improve our turnover ratio (number of a team’s turnovers compared to their opponents). We were either plus eight or 10 in 2009, and negative seven last year. It is not a simple thing to improve.”
· “We had too many mental errors during crucial times last year. Things like blocking the wrong way or being off-sides when we are trying to kick the tying field goal.”
After an 0-4 start last season in 2010, Stiegelmeier said it is important his team “start off on the right foot. It’s amazing how one play will win a football game and that one win makes you feel like you are so much better had you not made that play and lost the game. It is a fickle deal.”
The Jackrabbits have had a winning record in 11 of Stiegelmeier’s 14 years as head coach, including six with seven or more victories. SDSU has posted eight winning seasons in the last nine years, including six of the school’s first seven campaigns at the Division I Football Championship Subdivision level.
Overall, Stiegelmeier has led the Jackrabbits to an 88-66 record. The 54-year-old former Northern State assistant is the second winningest coach in SDSU history behind Ralph Ginn (113-89-9 from 1947-68).
Stiegelmeier’s teams have posted some historic moments in recent years. In 2007, SDSU claimed its first conference title since 1963 by winning the Great West Football Conference championship. In 2009, the Jackrabbits earned their first FCS playoff appearance and the program’s first postseason appearance in 30 years.
2011 SDSU SCHEDULE
Sept. 3: vs. Southern Utah (Cereal Bowl), 6 p.m.
Sept. 10: at Illinois in Champaign, 11 a.m.
Sept. 17: at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, 6 p.m.
Sept. 24: Illinois State in Normal, 6 p.m.
Oct. 1: vs. Indiana State (Beef Bowl), 6 p.m.
Oct. 8: at Youngstown, Ohio, State, 3 p.m.
Oct. 15: vs. University of Northern Iowa (Hall of Fame/Military Appreciation), 6 p.m.
Oct. 22: vs. North Dakota State (Dakota Marker/All Coughlin-Alumni Stadium Team), 2 p.m.
Oct. 29: at Missouri State in Springfield, 2 p.m.
Nov. 5: vs. Southern Illinois (Hobo Day), 2 p.m.
Nov. 12: at Western Illinois in Macomb, 1 p.m.
2010 SDSU RESULTS
Delware 26, SDSU 3
Illinois State 24, SDSU 14
Nebraska 17, SDSU 3
Northern Iowa 24, SDSU 14,
SDSU 33, Western Illinois 29
SDSU 31, Southern Illinois 10
SDSU 30, Youngstown State 20
Indiana State 41, SDSU 30
SDSU 31 Missouri State 10
NDSU 31, SDSU 24
BY JOHN PAPENDICK, Aberdeen News