Former SDSU great Ranek keeping up with Jacks, ZennerJosh Ranek still keeps a close eye on his old football team, South Dakota State University.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Josh Ranek still keeps a close eye on his old football team, South Dakota State University.
“They’ve had some good years, some bad years,” said the former SDSU running back great, “but this year is definitely an exciting year.”
The Tyndall native who was known for bull-dozing the Jackrabbits’ opponents from 1998 to 2001 is now living in Spearfish and selling medical devices. At 34 years old, Ranek jokingly calls himself a “has-been.”
Listed at 5-foot-8, 210 pounds when he played in college, Ranek started four years for SDSU when it still played as a member of NCAA Division II. Since Ranek left, SDSU made the jump and now plays NCAA Division I football.
After college, Ranek signed as a rookie free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. His opportunity in the NFL was short-lived when he pulled his hamstring on the first day of rookie camp and was cut by the team.
From there, he pursued a career with the Canadian Football League, where he played six years and had stops in Ottawa, Hamilton, Edmonton and Saskatchewan. He was a three-time all-star in the league and helped the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the 2007 Grey Cup, the CFL’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.
“I wanted to play eight years,” he said. “I had some injuries the last couple of years, which is why I bounced around. Like anything in sports, when you get older and start having injuries, you don’t have too many teams knocking on your door.”
Even after several years of professional football, Ranek still holds several of SDSU’s rushing records, most notably yards in a career (2,055), most touchdowns in a season (28), touchdowns in a career (69) and rushing average per game for a season (186.8 yards).
Last week, when the Jackrabbits defeated Eastern Illinois in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, one of Ranek’s most impressive records fell.
Zach Zenner — the Jacks’ sophomore from Eagan, Minn. — ran for 295 yards, claiming the school’s single-game record for most rushing yards in one game. The previous mark, held by Ranek, was 291 yards, set in 1999.
“I saw (Zenner) play last year when I was in Brookings for a home game,” Ranek said. “He wasn’t starting. … I saw him on kick returns, which he did very well. But I think he’s having a fantastic year this season.”
At 3 p.m. today, Zenner and the Jackrabbits are playing North Dakota State in the second round of the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs. Although Ranek isn’t able to make the trip to Fargo, N.D., to see his old team play, he’s definitely going to be rooting for a Jackrabbits victory.
If SDSU is going to win, it’s going to need another big game from Zenner, the team’s top offensive threat this season who has the potential to top several of Ranek’s rushing records by the time his college career is complete.
Entering today’s game, Zenner has 1,998 yards in 13 games this season. He’s 57 yards shy of tying Rank’s single-season mark of 2,055 yards. Though, Ranek did it in 11 games in 1999, when the Jackrabbits went 8-3.
“Records are meant to be broken,” said Ranek, who helped Bon Homme High School to two state 11B football titles. “I actually told that to (SDSU coach) John (Stiegelmeier). I don’t think Zenner is a guy looking to break records. … He’s probably happy they’re in the playoffs and the position they’re in. If he keeps working hard, there’s no doubt he’s probably going to break all the records.”
Zenner and Ranek have never personally met, but Ranek gave a pregame chapel before the annual Beef Bowl game last season. It was the first time Zenner saw the former All-American in person.
When Zenner was asked about Ranek, SDSU’s 6-foot, 215-pound running back knew of the name.
“I know he was a very good running back here and had a lot of success,” Zenner said. “I’ve heard of a few of the great ones from being here and being around and knowing the history of the program.”
Through two years playing as a Jackrabbit, Zenner holds two school records including the one he set last week. He also has the longest rush in SDSU history, a run that came on the Jacks’ first play from scrimmage this year against Kansas.
Although he’s making waves already as an underclassman, Zenner insists his focus isn’t setting records.
“This has been a great season so far, but right now we’re just focused on the next game,” Zenner said Thursday afternoon. “I think at the end of the season, it will be nice to look back at how well we did as an offense this season. But right now, we’re just focused on the next game.”
Whether the Jackrabbits win or lose today against North Dakota State, Ranek will keep an eye on Zenner.
Ranek described Zenner as a running back with speed and “he does a good job grinding it out.”
“I’ll imagine I’ll be back next year to do another pregame chapel,” Ranek said. “I’ll have to say hello to him then or I’ll reach out to him this year after they finish their season.”
Zenner said he would absolutely be open to meeting Ranek.
“One of the great running backs in SDSU history, I’m not going to be too busy,” Zenner said. “I can guarantee that.”