Jackrabbit Spring Game set for 5 p.m. at SJAC

Sean Welsh/Register File: South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. outruns the South Dakota defense on his way to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown rush during the first quarter of the Jackrabbits’ 49-27 Missouri Valley Football Conference defeat of the Coyotes on Nov. 17, 2018, at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. The redshirt-freshman picked up 253 yards on just 17 carries while scoring three TDs as SDSU clinched a top-eight seed in the FCS Playoffs. Strong will be one of the featured backs in Saturday’s Spring Game at the SJAC.

The South Dakota State University football team will close out spring practices by playing its annual Jackrabbit Spring Game Saturday afternoon.

Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. inside the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex. Audio and video coverage of the game will be available for free at GoJacks.com/Watch, with the radio broadcast originating from Jackrabbit Sports Network flagship station WNAX 570 AM.

Admission to the Jackrabbit Spring Game is free. An autograph session with select Jackrabbit players will follow the game.

The Format

Saturday’s Jackrabbit Spring Game will be an intrasquad scrimmage pitting the offense versus the defense. A scoring system that rewards the defense for takeaways and big plays will be used. Besides using normal scoring rules, the offense can earn additional points for putting together long drives.

The game will be split into 50-minute halves, running time, with short breaks built in for changes of possession.


Quarterback Battle

Spring practices have marked an open competition as to who will take over the reins at quarterback in an attempt to replace Taryn Christion, who set 17 school records during a standout career from 2015-18. Of the four players vying for the position, only junior Kanin Nelson has attempted a pass in a Jackrabbit uniform. Nelson is joined by junior transfer Kurt Walding, along with redshirt freshmen J’Bore Gibbs and Matt Connors.

Ground Offensive

The Jackrabbits return three of their top five rushers from a year ago, including sophomore Pierre Strong, Jr., who was the featured back the last half of the 2018 season. Strong needed only 100 carries to reach the 1,000-yard mark, finishing the year with team highs of 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Senior Mikey Daniel (630 yards, 10 TDs) and sophomore C.J. Wilson (281 yards, 1 TD) also return. Throw in junior Blair Mulholland and redshirt freshman Jefferson Lee V, and the Jackrabbits figure to have plenty of options to run behind an offensive line that returns a pair of starters in tackle Evan Greeneway and Eagan Lickiss. Center Wes Genant is likely to redshirt in 2019 as he recovers from injury.

Retooling the Secondary

Senior cornerback Marshon Harris is the lone returning starter in the Jackrabbit secondary as SDSU will look to replace a pair of pro prospects in cornerback Jordan Brown and safety Brandon Snyder. Joshua Manchigiah and Larenzo Williams bring the most experience to the safety unit, along with Jarek Berg, while the team’s 2018 leader in interceptions, Zy Mosley (4), leads a group of returning cornerbacks that also includes Malik Lofton, Don Gardner, Ti’Jaih Davis, Bryce Banks and DyShawn Gales.

Improved Pass Rush

An emphasis during the spring has been applying more pressure to opposing quarterbacks. The Jackrabbits finished with 20 sacks in 13 games last season and were led by senior defensive end Ryan Earith’s 5.5 sacks. Sophomore Reece Winkelman has emerged as another top pass-rushing option at defensive end, along with senior Austin Smenda and juniors Tolu Ogunrinde (3 sacks) and Elijah Wilson (1.5 sacks).

On the interior of the line, sophomore defensive tackle Krockett Krolikowski (4 sacks) is sitting out this spring as he recovers from an injury suffered during the Jackrabbits’ playoff run. The rotation at defensive tackle this spring includes senior Spencer Hildahl, juniors Xavier Ward and Thomas Stacker, as well as sophomore Caleb Sanders.

Coaching Changes

The Jackrabbits may have been tasked with replacing coordinators on both sides of the ball, but the squad has maintained continuity by promoting from within. Offensive line coach Jason Eck has taken on the play-calling duties on offense, while linebackers coach Jimmy Rogers and safeties coach Brian Bergstrom will share defensive coordinator duties.

One constant: John Stiegelmeier enters his 23rd as head coach.


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