Back-to-back seasons: How South Dakota State football is preparing to play again in the fall

Eye on KELOLAND

BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — Usually, student-athletes get a long break between playing games to recover, train and prepare for the next season, but some athletes will not have much time this year.

Coming off of a spring season and playing in the national championship in May, SDSU football only has a few months to recover and get back on the field. While that time is short, the team is looking forward to their first game in September.

“I was really proud of our program for a number of things. We did get to the finals. We did have a chance to win the national championship, but there were so many more things that occurred. Guys taking care of themselves and no COVID positive tests. Great GPA. Commitment was unbelievable,” SDSU football head coach John Stiegelmeier said.

The Jackrabbits are coming off a historic season, both for the program and all of FCS Football. SDSU went 8-2, and came within seconds of winning its first national championship, falling to Sam Houston 23-21 in the title game.

“I’m super proud of all our guys on the team. Just the amount of commitment that they displayed throughout the, arguably the longest off-season a team has ever had with the season getting postponed, and you know, we were COVID free. All the players were COVID free the whole spring season. I think that’s just a testament to our team’s commitment to our goal to get to Frisco, which we did, we just got to finish it next time,” offensive lineman Wes Genant said.

“Last season was a great experience to get the opportunity to play in a championship game, but at this point it doesn’t matter. Like, we’re just trying to start all over and like get back there, so that’s in the past. We’re working on the future right now,” cornerback Don Gardner said.

After the championship in May, the team had a short break, starting workouts for the summer on June 7.

“Now we’re shifting back to a true off-season, but they’re not prepped for it and coming off of a complete layoff,” assistant athletic director of strength and conditioning Nate Moe said. “We’ve just been significantly lighter. Easing them back in slower and making sure we can progress over the course of our two months and that they’re ready for the fall.”

“Going to back-to-back seasons could be hard for some people’s body’s, so I think the best thing for kids right now is staying healthy, taking breaks,” running back Isaiah Davis said.

It’s the shortest off-season ever many FCS teams are experiencing this summer.

“This year it’s a lot different, because I mean we get done at mid-May. You only get three weeks off before workouts start, and then you’re still recovering from injuries and stuff, so it’s a little bit harder to gain your muscle back and stuff,” defensive end Reece Winkelman said.

“I think that’s both a pro and a con. Con that it’s so short because we’re beat up, but pro that we’re in playing shape already. We already know a lot of the offense and the defense and the schemes and everything, there’s not much learning that has to happen, so it’s more of a physical stress than it is a mental stress,” Genant said.

The short turnaround doesn’t give the Jackrabbits much time to choose a new quarterback with J’Bore Gibbs and Mark Gronowksi both suffering injuries this past spring. Keaton Heide and newly signed grad transfer Chris Oladokun are among those competing for the spot.

“I really think that whole group, there’s new life right, because nobody’s got the job. I think everybody’s level will be elevated and I look forward to the competition,” Stiegelmeier said.

The team is looking forward to more normalcy this upcoming season.

“Now I know what it feels like,” Davis said. “I know what home games are like, and like, now I have that feeling of after we win. After we celebrate in the locker room. I know that feeling and it’s something that you don’t get a lot. Yeah, I’m ready to get back out there with my guys on the field.”

And with the stands filled with fans.

“The stadium being able to be full. I think there will be a renewed energy and excitement because of what they went without, so we’re looking forward to that and that support,” Stiegelmeier said.

There is a common goal Stiegelmeier and his players have in mind.

“To win a national championship. It’s been our goal since I became a head football coach, and we’ve made some strides and we’ve climbed that hill, but we’re not there yet. I’m really proud of our program and where we’re at, but we need to finish,” Stiegelmeier said.

“We want the big natty. We want to win. We’ve seen it. We’ve been there. We came 16 or 18 seconds short, so that’s our goal. We want to win that. Bring it back to Brookings,” Winkelman said.

“To win it all. Get back to the national championship and win it all. Not fall short this time. That’s the ultimate goal for us,” Gardner said.

The Jackrabbits will begin practice on August 5 and the team’s first game is Friday, September 3 at Colorado State. University of South Dakota’s first football game is also September 3 at Kansas.

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