College football: Twenty Jackrabbits earn spots on All-MVFC teams

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ST. LOUIS — Led by Co-Offensive Players of the Year Isaiah Davis and Mark Gronowski, 20 South Dakota State student-athletes combined for 21 spots on the 2023 All-Missouri Valley Football Conference Team, which was announced Monday.

Selections to the all-MVFC squad are determined by a vote conducted among the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and a media panel.

Davis, a senior running back from Joplin, Missouri, tallied a league-best 1,075 rushing yards during the regular season while ranking second with an average of 97.7 yards per game. Also a first-team all-MVFC selection a year ago, Davis scored 11 rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry en route to five 100-yard games. In addition, he caught 18 passes for 159 yards (8.8 ypr) with one touchdown.

Gronowski, who also was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman during the 2020-21 spring season, ended the regular season leading the Football Championship Subdivision in passing efficiency with a mark of 184.08. The junior quarterback from Naperville, Illinois, completed 68.5 percent (159-of-232) of his passes for 2,359 yards and 23 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He rushed and passed for touchdowns in the same game seven times this season and tossed at least one touchdown pass in 10 of 11 games.

Davis and Gronowski were two of nine first-team selections from a Jackrabbit team that completed the regular season with an 11-0 overall record and went undefeated in league play for the second year in a row with an 8-0 mark.

Other first-team selections on offense were wide receiver Jadon Janke and the offensive line tandem of Garret Greenfield and Mason McCormick.

Janke, a senior from Madison, came on strong down the stretch of the regular season to lead the team with 39 receptions, 677 receiving yards (75.2 ypg, 17.4 ypr) and 8 touchdowns. He caught two touchdown passes in a game three times and set a career high for receiving yards in each of the last two games with 166 yards Nov. 11 at Youngstown State and 187 yards on a career-best 10 receptions a week later versus Missouri State.

Both seniors, Greenfield and McCormick manned the left side of the offensive line at tackle and guard, respectively, helping pave the way for a Jackrabbit team that averaged 37.6 points per game. SDSU has averaged nearly a 50-50 split in offense between passing (226.9) and rushing (219.9) yards per game.

A native of Rock Valley, Iowa, Greenfield was named a first-team all-MVFC honoree for the third time while McCormick, a Sioux Falls native, repeated on the first team and earned his fourth overall selection.

The Jackrabbit defensive selections on the all-MVFC First Team were paced by senior linebacker Jason Freeman, who completed the regular season as the team leader in tackles with 72 (38 solo), including four tackles for loss and a half-sack. A senior from Zion, Illinois, Freeman also contributed two interceptions, two pass breakups and a pair of fumble recoveries for a unit allowing an FCS-best 11.3 points per game.

Joining Freeman on the first team were defensive end Cade Terveer and safety Tucker Large. Terveer, a senior from Brandon, tallied team highs of six sacks and seven tackles for loss. He notched at least a half-sack in each of the first league games en route to 19 total tackles.

Large, a sophomore from Sioux Falls, led the squad with three interceptions, while adding five pass breakups and 38 tackles. He also earned second-team all-MVFC recognition as a return specialist after averaging 16.3 yards per punt return. Large set an SDSU single-game record with 149 yards on four punt returns Sept. 16 against Drake.

The final first-team selection went to all-purpose back Amar Johnson. A junior from O’Fallon, Missouri, Johnson ranked second on the team with 597 rushing yards and added 95 yards on 10 receptions. He also served as the Jackrabbits’ primary kickoff returner, racking up 282 yards in that category to give him a total of 974 all-purpose yards (88.6 ypg).

Headlining SDSU’s second-team honorees was four-time all-MVFC tight end Zach Heins. The senior from Sioux Falls repeated as a second-team selection in 2023 after ranking second on the team with five touchdown receptions after catching 20 passes for 293 yards. Heins previously was a first-team selection during the 2020-21 spring season and an honorable mention pick in the fall of 2021.

Also receiving second-team recognition from the Jackrabbit offense was fullback Mike Morgan and offensive lineman Gus Miller. Morgan, a senior from New Lenox, Illinois, contributed at both fullback and tight end, catching nine passes for 95 yards.

Miller, a junior from Brookings, started all 11 regular season games at center for the Jackrabbits, who allowed only eight sacks during the regular season.

Defensively, veterans Ryan Van Marel, Isaiah Stalbird and DyShawn Gales were selected as members of the all-MVFC Second Team.

Van Marel helped solidify a Jackrabbit front four by registering 17 total tackles, including five tackles for loss and two sacks from his defensive tackle position. A senior from Sheldon, Iowa, Van Marel also recorded a pair of blocked kicks.

Stalbird ranked second on the team with 58 tackles (37 solo), including four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. A senior linebacker from Kearney, Nebraska, Stalbird also contributed an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a Jackrabbit unit that ranks second in total defense among FCS teams by allowing only 266.5 yards of offense per game.

Gales, a senior cornerback from North Chicago, Illinois, earned his second all-league selection after tallying 32 tackles (19 solo), three pass breakups and an interception during the 2023 regular season. Gales is a three-year starter.

Rounding out the Jackrabbits’ second-team selections were a pair of special teams performers in punter Hunter Dustman and long snapper Kaydon Olivia. A junior from East Bethel, Minnesota, Dustman averaged 46.1 yards on 21 punt attempts with a long of 62 yards during the regular season. He also tallied a team-high 90 points while performing the kicking duties.

Olivia, a sophomore from Schertz, Texas, handled all the long-snapping duties for a Jackrabbit squad that ranks in the top five of the FCS for net punting at 41.8 yards per attempt, while also going 13-of-18 on field goals and 51-of-53 on extra-point tries.

Completing SDSU’s list of all-league performers were three honorable mention selections: wide receiver Jaxon Janke, offensive lineman Evan Beerntsen and cornerback Dalys Beanum.

A senior from Madison, Janke joined his twin brother, Jadon, on the all-MVFC squad after ranking second on the team with 36 receptions and 602 receiving yards, while adding three touchdowns. He has a streak of 44 consecutive games with a reception and was honored at the conference level for the fourth time after three consecutive seasons of earning second-team accolades.

Beerntsen, a senior from De Pere, Wisconsin, became the fourth Jackrabbit offensive lineman to be named to the honor squad after starting all 11 regular season games at right guard.

Beanum recorded a team-best six pass breakups and intercepted a pass during the 2023 regular season. The senior from Omaha, Nebraska, also registered 25 tackles in earning honorable mention all-MVFC recognition for the second year in a row.

South Dakota State is making its 12th consecutive appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and is the top seed in the 24-team field. The Jackrabbits received a first-round bye and will host Mercer in second-round action Dec. 2 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

The MVFC All-Newcomer Team will be announced Tuesday.