BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota State’s football facilities were so bad when Jimmy Rogers was on his official visit in 2005 that his host drove right past them without stopping.
That didn’t matter to Rogers, who had no choice but to sign with John Stiegelmeier and the Jackrabbits if he wanted to play Division I football.
“I promised him in front of my family that we would win a national championship,” Rogers said Friday. “I wish it hadn’t taken 18 years.”
Two weeks after SDSU won its first Football Championship Subdivision title, Rogers was introduced as the successor to the retiring Stiegelmeier.
Rogers, 35, has been with the Jackrabbits nearly every step of the way as they’ve upgraded their facilities to some of the finest in the FCS and evolved into a power in the second tier of Division I football.
He was an under-recruited player who blossomed into a two-time all-conference linebacker. He’s been a graduate assistant, position coach and defensive coordinator. Now, he’s SDSU’s 21st head coach.
“At 17 years old, South Dakota State wasn’t a dream of mine,” he said. “Seventeen years later, I can proudly say my reality has become a dream. It truly has.”
Stiegelmeier, who won 199 games in 26 seasons, laid out a succession plan for an internal candidate to take over once he retired. Rogers has been the coach in waiting since being named assistant head coach in 2019.
“I don’t think anybody knows they’re ready until they get in these shoes,” Rogers said. “This is going to be a learning process. I’m confident in who I am. Could I be a head coach everywhere in the country? No. I can be the head coach here. Part of that is because I’ve been everyone in this room.”
Rogers takes over with the program at its all-time high. The Jackrabbits have turned the tide in their rivalry with North Dakota State, having beaten the Bison four straight times after their 45-21 win in the FCS title game Jan. 8.
SDSU is on a program-best 14-game win streak and coming off its 11th straight FCS playoff appearance.
“The 2022 team and that set of coaches and players won a national championship, will go down in history and we’ll always talk about that team,” athletic director Justin Sell said. “Today is about 2023, where we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to do. We have a chance to refresh that plan. We’re going to stay true to who we are, build off that and go out and accomplish great things.”
Rogers’ defense ranked first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and its performance in the postseason allowed the Jackrabbits to beat all four playoff opponents by at least 21 points.
“We made a statement in the 2022 season,” Rogers said. “That statement is now the standard, and we plan to uphold that.”