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Traxler: Mantras provide road map for South Dakota State football success in 2021

From "1-0" to "Last Play," slogans have meaning to Jackrabbits

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South Dakota State University football coach John Stiegelmeier looks on during a timeout at the Jacks' FCS semifinal playoff game against Delaware on Saturday, May 8, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade
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How far can a mantra or an attitude take you?

For South Dakota State football, it’s all the way to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game.

Spend a couple of minutes listening to Jackrabbit football players and the program’s mission statements and slogans will soon be flowing.

This isn’t to knock these ideas or to be dismissive of them. If anything, it’s good to see a team and its players buy into a common goal or ideal, and have something to believe in that goes beyond just themselves.

Let’s take for example SDSU’s 605 Hogs. That’s the team’s offensive line, with a name that means more than just the state’s area code for phone calls. And it has evolved past Jackrabbit coach John Stiegelmeier endearingly calling his blockers the “Fat Guys.” Allow senior center and Parkston native Wes Genant to explain what it all stands for.

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“Sixty minutes-plus of championship effort. Zero excuses. Five (linemen) as one. And we’re the Hogs because we do the dirty work,” Genant said this week.

“And we do it for each other, and we do it for the offense,” he continued. “I love all my Hogs and there’s no one else I’d rather play next to. We’ve come a long way since my freshman year, building that culture.”

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South Dakota State linebacker Logan Backhaus picks up the ball after an apparent Delaware fumble during the Jacks' FCS semifinal playoff game against Delaware on Saturday, May 8, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. The fumble was later reversed on replay review and ruled a sack. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Stiegelmeier acknowledged this week that his team teases him sometimes about all of the different mantras. But it’s hard to argue with where these ideas have taken the Jackrabbits this season, particularly seven straight wins and the school’s first championship game appearance.

So let’s take a quick run through SDSU’s other most popular sayings:

  • 1-0: The most-often cited slogan in the SDSU program calls for the player to win every single task they take on — from reps in the weight room to battles in practice to one-on-one battles in games. That spreads to each week, focusing on only the opponent at hand. “We’re going to focus on that 1-0 mantra, because that’s what’s got us here and that’s what will get us to the end,” Genant said.

  • Last play: It’s on the back of every Jackrabbit helmet. Play every play like it’s the last play you’ll ever have. SDSU senior linebacker Preston Tetzlaff, who will play his final game on Sunday as he plans to pursue a law degree at the University of Nebraska, said the mantra has “been on our hearts all playoffs long.”

  • Doing your 1/11th: It’s the idea that if each player on the field does his job, the overall team task will be taken care of, and SDSU will be successful.

  • Chain Gang: The SDSU defensive line’s moniker, consisting of a tough group of players working together as one.

  • TUFF (Together, Understanding, Focus, Finish): A defensive mantra for the Jackrabbits, outlining the four tenets of how they want the SDSU unit to play.

  • Be Us: This is a 2021 special, but one that has come into focus over the last few weeks. SDSU players have said they are committed to playing how they know they can, focusing on themselves and not the opponent. Xavier Ward, a Canistota High School graduate who starts at defensive tackle, said the focus is on playing SDSU’s game, “because that’s all we can do and all we can control and we control the controllables.”

  • Leave Nothing to Chance: Another longtime one for teams under Coach Stig, emphasizing doing everything in one’s individual power to win on every play.

  • "Holy Nutmeg:" OK, this one’s in here just for fun. It’s the saying for SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier when he’s frustrated or even mad, who has been committed to not using any worse language. He’s embraced it for his entire career and made it his Twitter handle.

The funny thing? Every coach in America would urge his players to take the game one play at a time, to win every repetition and to play together as one unit.
Look no further than the other sideline in Sunday’s championship game and you will find a strikingly similar message. Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler, who won national championships as a player and a coach at Delaware, said he has instructed his players to “manage the moments” and “play the next play.”

“(SDSU) is going to make some plays. Just move on to the next play. And that’s easier said than done, especially when everything is riding on it,” Keeler said on Tuesday. “I do talk a lot about managing the moments, play the next snap, don’t get in your head. If we lose, let’s say we gave it everything we had, and they were the better team. Let’s not say they made a few plays and we got into our own heads. That would be inexcusable.”

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Look across college sports, and football in particular, and you’ll find tons of these: building a program “Brick by Brick,” or Clemson talking about being “All In,” Oregon saying they will “Win the Day.” P.J. Fleck has built everything in his programs at Western Michigan and Minnesota behind “Row the Boat,” the idea that everyone has to be paddling in the same direction to have success.

None of the sayings mean anything if the players don’t believe in it or back it up on the field, and there’s a wide variety of programs having successes or failures with different mantras. And at the end of the day, great talent and coaching pull the most weight.

But it’s hard to argue with the results for South Dakota State in 2021.

MORE JACKRABBIT CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW COVERAGE:

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Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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