BROOKINGS-Kanin Nelson entered South Dakota State University's spring football game on Saturday in the midst of a full-fledged competition for the starting quarterback job.
The Mitchell native went through three previous spring games as a backup to Taryn Christion, but with the record-setting signal caller lost to graduation, Nelson is the lone quarterback in camp with prior game experience with Jackrabbits. Nelson's experience is limited, though, going 6 of 8 for 145 yards and two touchdowns in eight games last year.
With Arizona State transfer Kurt Walding and redshirt freshmen J'Bore Gibbs and Matt Connors breathing down his neck, Nelson was hoping for a strong spring game to separate him from the pack, but he injured his ankle on a scramble in the first half and was limited to one series in the second half.
"It's definitely disappointing not being out there for all the reps," Nelson said. "But it's a learning point and I'm just going to keep staying positive until the season starts."
The four quarterbacks were slated to play in nine-snap intervals-save for red zone trips-and Nelson started the second half, going 3 of 5 and leading the offense to a field goal. The coaching staff opted to rest his ankle for the remainder of the day, while the remaining quarterbacks made some noise as the offense scored 33 points in the second half for a 47-37 win.
Gibbs threw for 148 yards and a touchdown, including a 41-yard bomb to Adam Anderson on his first attempt. Connors went 8 of 12 for 108 yards and a rushing touchdown, while Walding-the game's starter-threw for 55 yards on five completions.
The competition is scheduled to continue once fall camp begins with no true frontrunner emerging, but SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier prefers to have an answer two weeks and certainly by opening day on Aug. 29 at Minnesota.
"I hope we have a number of guys that we can win with, but I hope we've decided who the top guys are," Stiegelmeier said.
In preparation to resume the competition, Nelson plans to reshape his body, while also improving on the mental aspect of the game during the summer.
"I want to gain about 5-10 more pounds," Nelson said. "I'm going to be focusing on things in the film room, seeing the coverages better and using all of my tools to attack that."
Bitten by the injury bug
Three former area football players-in different time periods of their careers-were forced to watch on the side as South Dakota State University conducted its annual spring game on Saturday at Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex.
Parkston native Wes Genant, Winner's Krockett Krolikowski and Kimball's Turner Blasius all missed the spring game due to injury, but all three took the experience in stride.
"I'm trying to find work where I can," Genant said. "I'm trying to teach the young guys, trying to help them as best I can from the position I can. I'm not just sitting out, I'm doing workouts and trying to get better, too. I'm just trying to help the young guys the best I can."
Genant was originally slated to redshirt during his freshman season, but he was sent into action three games into the 2016 season and has been a mainstay along the offensive line ever since. Injuries began to mount up toward the end of last season, however, as he missed three games. With two dislocated shoulders requiring surgery that won't clear him until October and a redshirt year available, the decision was made for Genant to sit out the upcoming season.
"The trainers are doing a wonderful job here," Genant said. "They're helping me along the way, making sure I'm 100 percent before I go back in and not try and rush through it."
While Genant is preparing to miss all of next season, Krolikowski is coming off a season-ending ACL injury that forced him to miss the final two playoff games last year.
The defensive tackle was in the middle of a breakout redshirt freshman season that saw him record four sacks and earn freshman All-American honors, before it was ripped away. Krolikowski, who had never suffered a severe football-related injury, is projected to be ready for the start of the 2019 season and he believes he has picked up a few tips during his time as an observer.
"It's been a new experience. It's actually opened up my eyes to other things you don't see when you're on the field," Krolikowski said. "You get to sit back and pick up tendencies from the offense and the defense. You look at things by how you can improve and become more of a vocal guy."
Meanwhile, Blasius is set to begin his redshirt senior season with his eyes set on gaining meaningful snaps on special teams for the first time in his career.
Yet it was a non-football injury that forced him to sit out, as he suffered a broken wrist during a power clean rep during the winter. Blasius was not concerned that an opportunity passed him by, particularly with most special teams units being sorted out during fall camp.
"We've done all four special teams in the past, but this year we mostly focused on punt," Blasius said. "I hope to get on punt shield, but from that aspect I didn't miss out too much, except a few scheme things. I've been here long enough that hopefully I'll be able to pick that right back up."
Fall camp is scheduled to begin in late July.
Ward, SDSU defensive line working on QB pressures
While the offense is undergoing a transition with a new play caller in Jason Eck and a new quarterback, the defense also has two new coordinators-Brian Bergstrom and Jimmy Rogers-with a focus on attacking the quarterback.
The Jackrabbits recorded 20 sacks in 13 games last season, and with depth along the defensive line, they are hoping to raise that number in the fall.
SDSU already got off to a strong start, as five different players registered a sack, including Canistota alum Xavier Ward, who is part of a deep defensive tackle rotation, that also includes Winner native Krockett Krolikowski.
"I like having a lot of defensive tackles along the line," Ward said. "Everyone wants to play on the D-line. Having more numbers makes everyone want to try to earn a spot and travel with us, so I think that's really good."