Article Image
Photo by: Robby Gallagher

Jackrabbits prepare for opener

Courtesy: SDSU Sports Info
Release: 08/28/2013 20:05:45

The South Dakota State University football team kicks off the 2013 season Saturday night by hosting Butler (Ind.) in non-conference action.
Kickoff is slated for 6:05 p.m. at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. Official game sponsor is South Dakota Corn.
The nationally ranked Jackrabbits are coming off a 2012 season in which they made their second appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in four years. SDSU tied a school record for wins in a season en route to a 9-4 overall record and second-place finish in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with a 6-2 mark.
Butler, which is receiving votes in the preseason Sports Network media poll, also put together a successful season in 2012, finishing the campaign with an 8-3 overall record and a share of the Pioneer Football League title. The Bulldogs put together a seven-game winning streak against league foes before falling at Drake (Iowa) in the season finale.
Immediately following Saturday’s game will be a fireworks show.

GROUNDBREAKING SET: A groundbreaking ceremony for the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex will be held in conjunction with the Jackrabbits’ 2013 football opener on Saturday.
The ceremony, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 3 p.m. in the construction area directly north of Coughlin-Alumni Stadium and the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center.
The Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2014. The indoor practice and human performance facility will include an eight-lane, 300-meter competition track and 100 yards of synthetic turf, along with space for sports medicine, athletic training, strength and conditioning, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, observation rooms and office facilities.
Leadership gifts from the Dale and Pat Larson family, First Bank & Trust, Sanford Health, Larson Manufacturing and other anonymous donors have made this transformational facility a reality. To date, nearly $29 million has been raised for the project, which was part of SDSU’s “It Starts With STATE”: A campaign for South Dakota State University.  The six-year campaign raised more than $255 million for students, faculty, facilities, athletics and other university programs.

THE SERIES: Saturday’s game marks the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between South Dakota State and Butler.
Since moving to the Football Championship Subdivision in 2004, the Jackrabbits have faced only one other Pioneer Football League opponent; SDSU rolled past Valparaiso (Ind.), 69-6, at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in the second game of the 2005 season.

FOR OPENERS: During the John Stiegelemeier era, the Jackrabbits have compiled a 10-6 record in season openers. SDSU won its first seven season-opening games under Coach Stig when competing at the NCAA Division II level, but has gone 3-6 in season openers since moving to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision in 2004.
The Jackrabbits last opened the season at home in 2011, holding on for a 29-28 victory over Southern Utah. SDSU is 8-1 under Coach Stig when the home opener has also served as the season opener.

ONLINE COVERAGE: Audio and video coverage of Saturday’s game is scheduled to be available via the Jackrabbit Extra subscription service at, the official website of SDSU athletics. Monthly subscriptions for the Jackrabbit Extra, which includes live audio and video streaming are available for $11.95 per month or $99.95 for an entire year of coverage.
Local radio coverage Saturday begins at 5 p.m. on the Jackrabbit Sports Network. Tyler Merriam will call the play-by-play, with former Jackrabbit player Mike Struck providing color commentary and Scotty Kwas providing sideline updates. Yankton-based WNAX 570 AM will again serve as the flagship station of the Jackrabbit Sports Network, which includes the following affiliates:
• KJJQ 910 AM-Brookings                
• KBFS 1450 AM-Belle Fourche
• KJOE 106.1 FM-Pipestone, Minn.
• KORN 1490 AM-Mitchell
• KOLY 1300 AM-Mobridge            
• KGFX 1060 AM-Pierre
• KOTA 1380 AM-Rapid City                       
• KSDR 1480 AM-Watertown
Video streaming, which will debut in high-definition on Saturday, also will be available on a pay-per-view basis for $7.95.

CAPTAINS: Leading the Jackrabbit football team on the field and in the locker room are four captains:
Brandon Hubert, Sr., wide receiver, Gretna, Neb.
Austin Sumner, Jr., quarterback, Brandon, S.D.;
Winston Wright, Sr., defensive back, Lee’s Summit, Mo.;
Zach Zenner, Jr., running back, Eagan, Minn.
The Jackrabbits broke from tradition last season by naming non-senior players as captains. Previously, all team captains were selected from the senior class. Sumner and Wright are two-year captains.

RABBITS RANKED: The South Dakota State University football team enters the 2013 season with its highest national ranking as a member of the Football Championship Subdivison by holding down the sixth spot in The Sports Network Preseason Top 25.
The Jackrabbits return 15 starters to a squad that advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs. SDSU’s previous high national ranking in either of the most-recognized polls was a ninth-place showing in 2010 preseason polls by both The Sports Network and FCS Coaches, following the Jackrabbits’ inaugural berth in the FCS playoffs in 2009.
Two-time defending national champion and Missouri Valley Football Conference rival North Dakota State received 127 of the 134 first-place votes to hold down the top spot. Montana State, Sam Houston State (Texas), Eastern Washington and Villanova (Pa.) were ranked 2-5.
SDSU, coached by John Stiegelmeier, is ranked seventh in the FCS Coaches Preseason Poll. The Jackrabbits also are ranked fourth by Lindy’s College Football, ninth by College Sporting News and 10th by Athlon College Football.

VALLEY PREVIEW: South Dakota State has been picked to finish second in the 2013 Missouri Valley Football Conference race, according to a preseason poll conducted by league coaches, media and sports information directors that was released in late July.
The Jackrabbits, who placed second in the league last season with a 6-2 record en route to a 9-4 overall mark and berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, tallied 323 points in the poll. Defending league champion and two-time defending national champion North Dakota State was a unanimous first-place selection, garnering all 39 first-place votes for 390 points. Northern Iowa (269), Illinois State (264) and Youngstown State (253) rounded out the upper half of the 10-team league.
Completing the poll were Indiana State (197), Southern Illinois (188), Missouri State (123), Western Illinois (77) and South Dakota (61).
Although the voters all agreed that NDSU is their top choice, there was a wide variance for the league's other nine teams, as seven teams were picked to finish in five or more different positions.
A pre-season favorite has claimed the league crown 15 times (in 27 previous polls). North Dakota State was picked to win the league last season.
In addition, four Jackrabbit players were named to the MVFC Preseason Team.
Headlining South Dakota State's four selections to the preseason all-league team were returning first-team honorees Bryan Witzmann and Zach Zenner. A senior offensive tackle, Witzmann has started all 35 of the Jackrabbits' games over the last three seasons. Zenner, meanwhile, set a league single-season record for rushing yards during the 2012 season, totaling an FCS-best 2,044 yards in 13 games.
Joining Witzmann and Zenner on the preseason team were defensive end Doug Peete and linebacker T.J. Lally, who both were second-team all-MVFC selections a year ago. Peete led the squad with 13.5 tackles for loss and shared the team lead with six sacks a season ago. Lally put together a strong redshirt freshman season in 2012, ranking second on the team with 107 tackles and also sharing the team lead with six sacks.
North Dakota State led with 10 selection to the MVFC Preseason Team, including returning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Williams. Northern Iowa was second with six honorees, followed by SDSU and Illinois State.
Each of the 10 league teams had at least one player named to the preseason team.

SCOUTING BUTLER: The Butler Bulldogs return an experienced group of players who earned a share of the Pioneer Football League title during the 2012 season.
The Bulldog nucleus includes 42 players who lettered a season ago, including 19 starters from a squad that posted an 8-3 overall record.
Senior quarterback Matt Lancaster directs the Bulldog offense. Lancaster, who began his collegiate career at Missouri Valley Football Conference member Illinois State, is a dual- threat signal-caller. Last season, Lancaster put his accuracy on display as he completed 60.1 percent of his passes (217-for-361) for 2,708 yards, while throwing for 21 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He also ranked second on the team with 408 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
All but one of Lancaster’s top receiving targets also return. Brendan Shannon was the Bulldogs’ top receiver a year ago, recording 62 receptions for 864 yards and eight touchdowns. J.T. Mesch, who ranked third on the team with 45 catches for 575 yards and three scores, is back for his junior season, along with Tom Judge. Judge tallied 25 receptions for 357 yards and one touchdown in 2012.
Senior running back Trae Heeter led the ground game in 2012 with 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Heeter also recorded 18 receptions for 122 yards and a score.
Reserve running back Rico Watson gained 118 yards in limited action in the backfield last season, and was the team’s top kick returner with an average of 20.3 yards on 23 attempts.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are led up front by senior defensive end Jeremy Stephens. An all-Pioneer Football League selection, Stephens ranked second in the league with 14 tackles for loss and third with 8.5 sacks — both of which were team highs. He ranked fourth on the team in total tackles with 71.
Senior Phillip Powell leads the returning group of linebackers after registering 51 stops in 2012.
The Bulldogs feature an experienced group in the secondary, where they are expected to start three seniors and a junior. Senior cornerbacks Sean Grady and Kevin Cook tallied 84 and 48 tackles, respectively, last season. Grady shared the team lead with two interceptions and added a team-high eight pass breakups. Cook added an interception and pair of pass breakups.
At safety, senior Jayme Szafranski and David Burke also return. Szafranski ranked third on the team with 81 tackles and broke up three passes in 2012, while Burke notched 33 tackles and shared the team lead by picking off two passes.
The Bulldogs will look to improve in the kicking game, after going only 4-for-12 on field goal attempts last season.
Punter Brian Akialis averaged 38.1 yards per attempt, landing 12 of his 46 attempts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Akialis also is listed as a wide receiver on the Butler preseason two-deep.

SUMNER AT THE HELM: Jackrabbit quarterback Austin Sumner is poised to take over the top spot in career passing this season.
A junior from Brandon, Sumner has tallied 4,825 passing yards through his first two seasons to rank eighth in SDSU history. He has played in 23 career games, making 20 starts. During his first season, he set a Missouri Valley Football Conference freshman record with 2,382 yards passing en route to being named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award as the top first-year player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Despite playing through injury in 2012, Sumner helped lead the Jackrabbits to an FCS playoff berth with 2,443 passing yards.
By reaching the 5,000-yard mark, Sumner would move into sixth place in career passing yards.

ZENNER ON PAYTON WATCH LIST: South Dakota State University running back Zach Zenner is one of 20 players named to the initial 2013 Walter Payton Award Watch List for the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
A junior from Eagan, Minn., Zenner is one of 11 finalists from the 2012 season to appear on the official watch list, which was announced in July. A consensus All-America selection last season, Zenner placed seventh in the balloting after joining the watch list a month into the 2012 campaign.
Zenner led the nation in rushing during the 2012 season, racking up 2,044 yards in 13 games for an average of 157.2 yards per contest. He crossed the 100-yard mark in nine games and topped 200 yards three times, including a school-record 295 yards in the opening round of the FCS playoffs Nov. 24 versus Eastern Illinois. Zenner averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns on the ground, while adding 28 receptions for 197 yards.
The Walter Payton Award will be presented by The Sports Network on Dec. 16.

LALLY LEADS LINEBACKERS: For the second year in a row, the South Dakota State University football team had a player under consideration for the Jerry Rice Award, which is presented to the top freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Linebacker T.J. Lally was named one of 20 finalists for the 2012 Jerry Rice Award following a stellar season in which he ranked second on the team with 107 tackles, shared the team lead with six sacks and ranked fourth with eight tackles for loss. Lally started all 13 games at middle linebacker and registered double figures for tackles in five games, including a career-high 11 in a playoff loss at North Dakota State
A member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer Team in 2012, Lally was one of three league players to be named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award. Northern Iowa quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen and Western Illinois linebacker J.J. Raffelson also were considered for the award.

SYROVATKA STEADY: South Dakota State kicker Justin Syrovatka is closing in on a Jackrabbit record for consecutive made field goal attempts.
A junior from Sioux Falls, Syrovatka made his last 12 field goal attempts of the 2012 season. Starting with the Oct. 13 victory over Western Illinois, Syrovatka went 7-for-7 from 20-29 yards, 1-for-1 on field goals of 30-39 yards and 4-for-4 from 40-plus yards, including a career-long 48-yarder in the Nov. 17 regular season finale against South Dakota.
Syrovatka’s last miss came on a 32-yard attempt Sept. 29 versus Missouri State. He ended the season 18-of-22 (81.8 percent) on field goals and is 24-for-32 (75 percent) for his career.
The Jackrabbit record for consecutive made field goal attempts is 13, which was set by Parker Douglass between the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS: The Jackrabbit football team has received valuable contributions from brothers Winston and Dom Wright over the past two seasons.
Natives of Lee’s Summit, Mo., and Blue Springs South High School, both joined the SDSU football program in the fall of 2010. A senior, Winston Wright has started all 24 games at cornerback over the last two seasons, earning second-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors in 2011. He led the team with three interceptions to go along with 57 tackles in 2011, followed by a 59-tackle, one-interception season in 2012. He began his colllegiate career at Missouri, redshirting during the 2009 season.
Dom Wright is a junior wide receiver who has seen most of his action as a kick returner. Last season, he averaged 20.6 yards on 10 kickoff returns and added a 39-yard punt return in limited action.

COACH STIG: John Stiegelmeier has built the South Dakota State University football team into a consistent winner in the ranks of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Overall, Coach Stig has led the Jackrabbits to a 102-76 record (.573 winning percentage). SDSU has posted seven winning seasons in the school’s nine campaigns at the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) level, compiling a 60-43 record since moving to the FCS ranks in 2004. Overall, the Jackrabbits have had a winning record in 12 of Stiegelmeier’s 16 years as head coach, and have a 27-13 record in Missouri Valley Football Conference games. SDSU has reached the FCS playoffs twice (2009, 2012) under Stiegelmeier’s guidance.

WORKING OVERTIME: SDSU’s 43-36 double-overtime victory at Missouri State during the 2011 season ended a four-game losing streak in overtime games for the Jackrabbits.
Overall, SDSU is 2-4 in overtime games, with both home contests played on Hobo Day. The Jackrabbits won their inaugural overtime game, 30-27 in two overtimes against Nebraska-Omaha in the 1998 Hobo Day game, then dropped a 46-44, triple-overtime decision to McNeese State (La.) in the 2008 Hobo Day game.
Following is a complete list of SDSU’s overtime games:
1998: SDSU 30, Nebraska-Omaha 27 (2 OT — at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium)
2002: Augustana 39, SDSU 33 (3 OT — at Sioux Falls)
2004: Southern Utah 23, SDSU 17 (2 OT — at Cedar City, Utah)
2007: Western Illinois 29, SDSU 26 (4 OT — at Macomb, Ill.)
2008: McNeese State 46, SDSU 44 (3 OT — at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium)
2011: SDSU 43, Missouri State 36 (2 OT — at Springfield, Mo.)

JACKRABBIT INSIDER: Throughout the 2013 football season, head coach John Stiegelmeier will be a guest on the “Jackrabbit Insider,” a weekly behind-the-scenes look at South Dakota State University athletics.
The half-hour television show which features interviews with Jackrabbit coaches and student-athletes, airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Sioux Falls-based MyUTV. The show is also broadcast on KELO-TV at 11 p.m. Central Sunday and at 10 p.m. Mountain Time Sunday on KDLO-TV. Online, the show can be viewed at

STIG SHOW: The John Stiegelmeier Radio Show airs each Monday throughout the 2013 football season.
The show is scheduled to air at 5 p.m. on the Jackrabbit Sports Network, originating with flagship station WNAX 570 AM in Yankton. In addition, the weekly show also will be streamed online at as part of the Jackrabbit Extra subscription service.
Hosted by Tyler Merriam, the John Stiegelmeier Radio Show will also feature interviews with Jackrabbit student-athletes and assistant coaches. Jackrabbit fans are encouraged to attend the show in person at Cubby’s Sports Bar and Grill, 307 Main Ave., in downtown Brookings.

A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits will face their first road contest of the season, traveling Sept. 7 to square off against the University of North Dakota.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. The game is slated to be televised on Midco Sports Net and also carried on the Jackrabbit Extra at