‘A hidden gem’: The state of football in South Dakota

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Vince Benedetto grew up playing football in Illinois. 

In his home state, Benedetto said he lived within four hours of six Big Ten schools but those college resources didn’t trickle down to many high school programs. Now serving as the head coach at Jefferson High School in Sioux Falls, Benedetto appreciates the access he and his student athletes get from the college football programs in the state. 

“The cool thing is kids can play in state and play at any level,” said Benedetto, who played college football at South Dakota State. “And play at a high level and compete for championships. It’s not like that everywhere you go.” 

The year 2021 has been one of the more memorable years for the sport of college football in South Dakota. In a unique spring season, South Dakota State reached the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game. In the fall, Northern State University unveiled a new $40 million football stadium to rival any in Division II college football. 

Last weekend, Augustana hosted a Division II playoff game in Sioux Falls and this weekend both South Dakota and South Dakota State will both host FCS playoff games for the first time. 

“I still think South Dakota football is a hidden gem,” Harrisburg football coach Brandon White said. “Even at the collegiate level, I don’t think it gets the respect it deserves.” 

White, a former Coyote football player, helped lead Harrisburg to its first Class 11AAA high school state championship. While he’s planning to attend USD’s first home playoff game in 35 years, White said he also enjoys seeing the plethora of success at SDSU. 

“They are proving they can win with South Dakota football players,” White said. “What an opportunity and exposure for our high school kids to have such great collegiate football all across the state.” 

For all young football players in South Dakota, White said the state has a range of options to keep playing the sport at the college level at Division I, Division II and NAIA. He said more high school athletes from South Dakota get noticed more often by college coaches of all levels because of instant exposure from social media and the internet. 

Benedetto said recent investments into facility upgrades have helped raise the level of football at the college, high school and youth levels. 

“I think the state of football is really good and it’s going to help high school football too because we got those resources in college coaches and those programs,” Benedetto said. “The college coaches we have around are really open and willing to talk and help us grow as coaches.” 

USD Athletic Director David Herbster agreed with Benedetto and White. He said the quality of college football in South Dakota has never been higher. 

“To be exposed to that high quality and high caliber football helps promote the sport itself,” Herbster said. “From the young level to the high school level. It’s extremely important that from a grassroots effort we continue to support the sport of football.”   

Herbster said training and nutrition practices have helped young athletes and he’s seen those benefits on campus at USD. 

Benedetto pointed to strong coaches throughout the state for helping raise the level of the sport. 

“A big part of it is we have really good football coaches in South Dakota at the college and high school level,” Benedetto said. “They’ve done a good job of moving the game of football up in South Dakota.”    

White said he expects both college and high school football to continue to have success.

“High school football in South Dakota is only going to get better. It’s all across the state. Kids have opportunities and they’re taking advantage of it,” White said.

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