2019 South Dakota State Preview: Defense
In college football, change is inevitable as the coming and going of players during a four-year career has rosters in a constant state of upheaval.
But at South Dakota State in 2019, it's the coaching roster that's undergone a major transformation. Yes, head coach John Stiegelmeier is back for his 23rd season, but just about every other spot on his staff has undergone some sort of change.
On the defensive side, that means new co-coordinators, with safeties coach Brian Bergstrom and linebackers coach Jimmy Rogers sharing the defensive play-calling this season.
They'll begin work with a talented front seven led by two-time All-American linebacker Christian Rozeboom, who's heading into his senior season.
The Sioux Center, Iowa native has amassed more than 300 tackles as a three-year starter and knows that opposing offenses are actively scheming to stop him, but he says that doesn't alter his approach:
Up front, the Jackrabbits are stacked.
Preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference selection Ryan Earith anchors a line that recorded 20 quarterback sacks in 2018.
Also back on the defensive line are starters Austin Smenda, Krockett Krolikowski, and Xavier Ward. Also, back with playing time under their belts are Tolu Ogunrinde, Elijah Wilson, Spencer Hildahl, Thomas Slacker, and Caleb Sanders.
Rozeboom says he likes what he sees from this group:
Joining Rozeboom at linebacker are returning starters Logan Backhaus and Seven Wilson. Backhaus' 61 tackles last were third-best on the team while Wilson also made an impact on special teams, blocking three kicks.
Preston Tetzlaff and Levi Brown will also factor into the linebacking rotation. Rozeboom says that depth is a key:
The defensive backfield has some holes to fill with the departure of three starters to graduation and two other players (Larenzo Williams and Marshon Harris) to injuries.
Juniors Don Gardner and Malik Lofton are in line to start at cornerback while juniors Michael Griffin II and Josh Manchigiah will get the call at safety.
The kicking game has a veteran and a new face.
Senior All-American placekicker Chase Vinatieri has had back-to-back 100 point seasons, while long snapper Bradey Sorenson is also an All-American.
The Jackrabbits will have a new punter in 2019. Sophomore Ben Dinkel takes over for Brady Hale who graduated in May.
Overall, the SDSU program has seen unprecedented success, as one of just two teams in the nation (North Dakota State is the other) to qualify for the FCS Playoffs each of the last seven seasons.
The last two years have ended with the Jackrabbits just a win away from a berth in the National Championship game. Rozeboom says this team still has some unfinished business:
The Jackrabbits open the season August 29 at Minnesota.