SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Not every Jackrabbit will be a Dallas Goedert but they will share some characteristics of being a part of the South Dakota State University football program.
Goedert, played for SDSU from 2013-2017. He is a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. He graduated from Britton-Hecla High School in South Dakota.
South Dakota State University quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Lujan said one of the keys to Jackrabbit success is finding the student athletes in South Dakota and neighboring states.
“First and foremost, our staff (has the goal) to invest locally,” Lujan said. “We want to try and invest within a four hour radius (of Brookings).”
“Quite frankly, we’ve had a lot of success with hidden gems…,” Lujan said.
The SDSU roster has at least 24 players from South Dakota. There is another roughly 40 players from Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.
Some of those players come from small schools such as Timber Lake, S.D., or Jackson County Central (JCCA) in Jackson, Minnesota. While schools such as JCC may have success in football, players may still play two sports.
And players from smaller schools may not have the access to year-round football programs or the level of skill and conditioning training that student athletes from larger schools have.
“It isn’t that they are not as talented…,” Lujan said of recruiting from South Dakota and neighboring states.
SDSU always wants an athlete of a Division I talent in height, weight and speed ratios but sometimes, it takes honing that talent at the college level, Lujan said.
“We understand that at a small school, athletes weren’t given the resources or the tools,” Lujan said. The student athlete is given time to mature as a player and improve his skills, Lujan said.
“Our program isn’t based on finding the next (big thing) at the junior college level. It isn’t based on the transfer portal,” Lujan said.
The states of South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, have produced Division I talent but also athletes with other qualities SDSU seeks, Lujan said.
“We want to know what type of student they are, who they are…,” Lujan said.
Student athletes will join a program where Lujan said head coach John Stiegelmeier emphasizes love, caring and support for each other and others.
“We want to see our (players) be successful in all phases of life,” Lujan said.
A true freshman player at SDSU is required to attend a weekly student life skills course. The players learn about managing study hours, the SDSU traditions, diversity and even “how to treat women,” Lujan said.
Stiegelmeier also has regular meetings in which he discusses what it means to be Jackrabbit and developing the culture of SDSU football, Lujan said.
National championship means more exposure
The Jackrabbit playoff run which culminates Sunday, May 16, in the national championship against Sam Houston in Frisco, Texas, will “most definitely help with recruiting.”
“Anytime you can showcase your program, your university, it’s better from a recruiting standpoint,” Lujan said.
While athletes from South Dakota may be aware of the SDSU program, there is untapped recruiting potential around the nation.
“South Dakota State is hidden gem,” he said. “We have unbelievable facilities, unbelievable success and unbelievable people.”
It’s not that SDSU hasn’t had success with national recruiting. Arizona for example, has produced some of SDSU’s top football players in the past.
Lujan, who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, arrived at SDSU from a junior college about eight years ago. He played quarterback from 2014-2016.
He admitted he didn’t really have any intent of playing for the Jackrabbits. He had considered it just one of the five campus visits he could make. But once he was on campus and learned about the program, he was convinced.
Eight years later, he is still a Jackrabbit.