South Dakota State goes big in the early signing period as the Jackrabbits continue to build a program that reached the FCS semi-finals this season.
Here is the group that signed National Letters of Intent on December 20, the first day of a new 3-day early signing period.
Ian Bass 6-4, 275 OL Rosemount, Minnesota
Logan Busch 6-4, 315 OL Beresford, SD (Iowa Western CC)
Matt Connors 6-4, 195 QB Collierville, Tennessee
Ti'jaih Davis 6-1, 180 DB Boys Town, Nebraska
Nicholas Garlisch 6-0, 195 S St. Charles, Illinois
J'Bore Gibbs 6-3, 220 QB Chicago, Illinois
Garret Greenfield 6-6, 265 OL Rock Valley, Iowa
Zach Heins 6-7, 230 TE Sioux Falls Washington
Clayton Hooper 5-10, 175 DB Chandler, Arizona
Max Howard 6-7, 320 OL Sioux Falls (Brandon Valley)
Ryan Kluver 6-5, 240 DL Buffalo, Minnesota
Blake Kunz 6-5, 240 TE Germantown, Wisconsin
Michael Littleton 6-3, 210 ATH Wichita, Kansas
Mason McCormick 6-4, 300 OL Sioux Falls Roosevelt
Caleb Sanders 6-1, 260 DL Glenwood, Iowa
Cade Terveer 6-3, 240 DL Brandon, SD
Jayd Van Der Werff 6-1, 190 ATH Gregory, SD
Ryan Van Marel 6-4, 245 DL Sheldon, Iowa
Trajan Walhof 6-5, 250 DL Sioux Center, Iowa
Saiveon Williamson 6-1, 195 DB Waseca, Minnesota
Samuel Willmott 6-3, 250 DL Rosemount, Minnesota
Pretty much everything… except wide receivers, which at first seems a bit odd considering the departure of SDSU GOAT, Jake Wieneke. But… with what they have coming back (Jacob Brown, Marquise Lewis, Cade Johnson, Alex Wilde, Adam Anderson, etc.) and with guys who redshirted this year (Keenan Orr, Deyon Campbell, etc.) the Jacks are confident that the wideout group is pretty solid for 2018.
SDSU did go get a little bit of everything else.
The Jacks went heavy on linemen from the state of Iowa. Caleb Sanders is a “big, nasty” defensive tackle who is a nationally ranked high school wrestler that draws comparisons to Andy Mink and David Hettiger… hard-nosed, tough guy D tackles from the Jacks past. So while the skill guys get the attention… even on signing day… the Jacks are putting a lot of focus on the hogs who can block and the dogs who can get after the quarterback.
"You always have to have a focus on the offensive and defensive lines first,” says Dan Jackson, SDSU’s cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. “Coach Eck does an amazing job of evaluating offensive linemen so we’ve got a good crop coming in with Mason McCormick and Garret Greenfield that signed NLIs today. A guy like Logan Busch coming in from Iowa Western is going to be able to help us and he’s got some family tradition here. The Max Howards of the world. So we’ve done a good job locally of really getting those guys.”
McCormick from Roosevelt HS in Sioux Falls and joins fellow Roughrider offensive linemen Grant Schmidt and Austin Boen on the Jacks roster. McCormick has the physical makeup (already 300 pounds) to play right away. So does Brandon Valley’s Max Howard (6-7 and 320 lbs). Same for Logan Busch who is from Beresford (SD) and played at Iowa Western Community College last year. His dad is Mike Busch who played QB for the Jacks back in the mid-80s.
So there is a lot of beef on this year’s list… but also a few intriguing skill guys.
Of course, Taryn Christion is the quarterback of the present... he will be a senior next season. But the Jacks are sky high on J’Bore Gibbs, the quarterback from Chicago.
Gibbs had lower level FBS offers, but made a visit to Brookings during the playoffs this year and signed on Wednesday.
“He’s a dual threat type guy… a great leader,” says SDSU head coach, John Stiegelmeier. “A bigger guy in stature at 6-2 or 6-3 and really looks like a linebacker and like he could play linebacker… but a great leader, great young man and great student.”
“We felt like we got one of the best quarterbacks in the country to be honest with you,” adds Jackson, “at our level especially. J’Bore Gibbs is a special talent. He is from Phillips High School in Chicago and he has won state championships multiple years in a row and had a lot of MAC (Mid-American Conference) schools after him. He had schools contacting him up until last night, but he knows where he wants to be.”
The Jacks will have 5 QBs back if they all return and Gibbs would be a definite red-shirt for next season, but you get the sense he will have plenty of opportunity to be the QB of the future.
SDSU signed 6 players from South Dakota. One they are most excited about is a great all-around athlete from a 9-man school… Gregory’s Jayd Van Der Werff. He is listed at 6-1 but plays like he's bigger than that. He is listed as a wide receiver on the official signing list, but the Jacks are not sure if VDW will end up at WR.
“He can play multiple positions,” says Stig. “We recruited him with thought of… should he be a wide receiver? Should he be a safety? Will he grow up and be an outside linebacker? But the pedigree… how many state championships have they won? (3 of the last 4) He expects to win and you add those guys to your program it raises the mentality of that class.”
Van Der Werff calls to mind another South Dakota kid, current Jacks safety, Larenzo Williams. Same size (6-1, 190) and great athlete who will find a way to get on the field.
Coach Jackson says the Jacks signed “90 percent” of the guys they are going to bring in for this recruiting class. They are holding a couple of spots for a couple of linebackers… one of them is Seth Benson from Sioux Falls Washington. Benson was a verbal commit to SDSU, but got a last-minute scholarship offer from Iowa and while he weighs his options the Jacks will remain on standby.
Finally… the Jacks used one of their available scholarships on a young man that is already on the team… and was an impact player.
Cade Johnson was a redshirt freshman this year. He had two kickoff returns for touchdowns. He finished third on the team in catches (23), including 3 TDs. But Johnson was not on scholarship. He was on a promise from the coaches that when a scholarship became available that Johnson would get one. So they did that on Wednesday to reward a guy who had literally been paying his own way.
And that is one other take away from signing day… non-scholarship guys can end up making a huge difference in a program.
“Football,” says Stig, “you need a lot of guys. You don’t just depend on a Taryn or a Jake or a Dallas. You’ve got to have everybody doing their job.”
“We have,” adds Jackson, “a big, strong class of non-scholarship guys who we feel are going to contribute and help us towards our goal of winning a championship.”