Debates lodged over social media, barbershops and barstools about the top high school football players in South Dakota history are about to get a little more context.
While South Dakotans have keen memories about great players from the past, they were sorely missing free and up-to-date record books to commemorate the accomplishments of players throughout the years.
Enter Matt Christensen.
The Brandon Valley assistant coach is a self-described stathead and decided it was time to dig into the past and create a record book that could be available to the public. So, Christensen embarked on his mission during the winter, placing stats into a Google spreadsheet and picking up key contributors like Canton head coach Rich Lundstrom and KORN Radio’s Travis Kriens along the way.
“I love to see people recognized, love to see their accomplishments, love stats,” said Christensen, who is the social media director for the South Dakota Football Coaches Association, or SDFBCA. “I used to take football cards and baseball cards and study the backs of them. It’s fun to know the history through statistics. We just thought, ‘Why don’t we get these stats compiled a little bit?’ We don’t care how it looks, we just want people to have them.”
The task of hunting down statistics for not only all of the state’s current football programs, but defunct programs over the course of more than 100 years is arduous, but also part of the fun for the collaborators.
Lundstrom took the initiative of emailing every coach in the state in hopes of receiving stats from each school. They have also spent time sifting through old newspaper articles, yearbooks and all-star teams to come up with top-25 lists for individual and team statistics.
“I like doing the research,” said Lundstrom, who guided Canton to the Class 11A state championship last fall. “... We’re not going to go through every town’s newspaper. I would hope coaches would help us out with that, but it is interesting seeing some of the old, old stats and how they were kept."
The research and the input of the stats have separated with great detail. Not only have they been placed in 11-man and nine-man categories, but also each class within those categories, with all-time and single-season records. They have also accumulated some team statistics for single-season records.
The advent of digital scouting sites such as Hudl, Digital Scout and MaxPreps that allow digital stat-keeping, along with a more recent focus on keeping records, have helped track down most of the last two decades, but the research will truly ramp up when it comes to digging deep into the history of football in South Dakota.
“With the nine-man teams that bounce around within nine-man -- because I don’t have a chance to follow them -- so when I ask coaches for their records, I also ask for a timeline of classification,” Lundstrom said. “I just did Wolsey-Wessington and they were 9B, then 9A, 9AA and then this year they went back to 9B. I had to move some guys around that were in the wrong spots.”
Lundstrom says most of the 11-man teams have responded to his requests, but there are still some nine-man teams needed to fill in the gaps. Eventually the goal is to accumulate all of the records, but keeping them up to date in the future makes it a never-ending project, which is part of the enjoyment.
“We kind of know the top record-holders of a few of the top records, but we really have no context,” Kriens said. “A 2,000-yard (rushing) year is obviously good, but how good is it? Have five people done it? Have 10 people done it? Fifty? I just wanted to add some context.”
Once the records are completed, the plan is to transfer them to the SDFBCA website for easy access and opportunity for wide-spread attention for players past and present.
All will be able to see that Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s Jesse Hastings broke former Bon Homme and South Dakota State standout Josh Ranek’s 24-year-old record for career rushing yards in Class 11B. They will also be able to see that Hastings’ 5,008 career yards pair him with Sioux Falls Washington’s Tupak Kpeayeh (5,796) and Vermillion’s Ben Leber (5,305) as the only 11-man players to crack 5,000 career yards and his 83 rushing scores are believed to be the most in 11-man history.
Other records have withstood time, as Castlewood’s Mike Thyen’s 1,003 receiving yards in 1988 are still the fourth-best mark in Class 9B history after becoming the first nine-man player to top 1,000 yards in a season. Meanwhile, Hanson’s Jim Williams has the distinction of being second on the 9A list with 6,010 rushing yards and second in receiving with 2,780 from 2002 to 2005.
“We want to help people remember what existed,” Christensen said. “... The history and the pride of South Dakota football can create -- the people that attend games when they need a lift -- that’s what it’s really about. The memories and stories and people talking about something positive in a tough time.”