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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: WB-ND's Ethan Eilers signs with Jackrabbits
Christmas came a week early for Ethan Eilers.
The West Burlington High School senior offensive lineman earlier this week was selected to play in the Iowa Shrine All-Star Football Classic next summer.
On Wednesday, Eilers put his name on the dotted line, signing a National Letter of Intent to play football for South Dakota State University beginning next fall.
For Eilers, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound tackle, it was the culmination of a dream that began when he started playing football in middle school in San Angelo, Texas and continued the last four years at West Burlington, with his father, Jay Eilers, as his coach.
“It feels amazing. It’s really amazing just to get it done. I’m really excited for the future," Ethan Eilers said. “This whole dream is almost unreal, but I’m glad that it’s happening. It’s surreal. I’m so happy.”
“This is a great opportunity for Ethan," said Jay Eilers, who played college football at Northwest Missouri State and coached at the college level for several years. "I think that next step in life … you have to go out on your own. This is seven hours away from home. But this is really a special place with their coaching staff and their facilities and obviously they play in such an amazing conference. This will be neat.”
Ethan Eilers is part of a South Dakota State recruiting class of 30 players. The Jackrabbits will play in the spring this coming year because of COVID-19.
"This year's recruiting process was something totally different than previous years," Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier said. "I am so proud of how our staff adjusted. A huge credit to our assistants for putting together what we feel is an unbelievable signing class. Every one of our needs has been covered by really good student-athletes."
The Jackrabbits play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and compete in the Football Championship Subdivision. South Dakota State has qualified for the FCS playoffs eight straight years, winning the MVFC in 2016 and advancing to the FCS semifinals in 2017 and 2018.
Eilers is looking forward to the challenge of playing for a high-profile team.
“It’s awesome. There’s not very many programs better," Eilers said. "A lot of the coaches there know that they are really good, but they’re still trying for that national championship, striving to get better. I think that’s what the best have to do. South Dakota State is definitely one of the best.”
Ethan Eilers was part of a big turnaround for the Falcons this past season. WB-ND finished 4-5 and won its first postseason game in program history. The Falcons averaged 28.1 points and 312.3 yards per game and had their first 1,000-yard rusher in 16 years.
Eilers knows there is plenty of hard work ahead to succeed at the next level, but he has been working for this goal for as long as he can remember.
“For as long as I can remember football has been a big part of my life," Ethan Eilers said. "I didn’t like it as much as I do now because Dad was always gone. He was gone probably five or six months out of the year recruiting. I didn’t get to see him a whole lot when I was really young and he was at the college level. But it’s been awesome to learn from him. He’s helped me in so many things, in football and outside of football and recruiting. How to deal with coaches. How to deal with everything. He’s been amazing. I’m so lucky to have him. He’s the best. I love him. He’s awesome.”
Jay Eilers has been there every step of the way with his son, guiding him and teaching him as much as he could. Now, it is up to Ethan Eilers to take it to the next level.
“We’re pretty honest about it," Jay Eilers said. "One of the things we talked about was being homesick. But that’s part of the process. That’s part of learning who you are. One of the things we talked about is what an amazing achievement this is, but the goal is not done. There is more work to be done between now and reporting day. The cool thing is he is committed to work and he’s still doing it. He has a goal to be at a certain weight. I think he’ll reach those goals just as he’s reached this one.”
Ethan Eilers was surrounded by his family — Jay, mother, Becky, and brother, Evan, as well as his grandparents as he signed his NLI. And his entire WB-ND football "family" was there to support him.
"My mom is awesome, too," Ethan Eilers said. "You don’t hear a lot about my mom because she’s not a football coach, but she’s the glue that holds the family together. Sometimes when Dad and I are butting heads, Mom kind of helps us get back together. Mom is amazing. My whole family has helped through so much of this process. It’s been awesome.”
“I think this is huge," Jay Eilers said. "I’m so proud of the amount of young men on our team and our family that were here to represent and be here with Ethan on this cool day. We’re definitely developing a program here. You don’t develop a program overnight and that’s shown. This is really built upon every senior class I’ve had. They’ve worked so hard for me. This senior class is no different.”
With Steve Addazio out the door after just two seasons, where will the CSU Rams football program turn now? Here’s a summary of candidates who would (and should) be on athletic director Joe Parker’s short list:
Tony Alford, Ohio State assistant head coach/running backs coach: Will the third time be the charm for the most logical candidate out there (again)? A former CSU football running back (1987-90), Alford has recruited and nurtured NFL talent for decades and was a finalist for 247Sports.com’s National Recruiter of the Year in 2011. He was on the Rams’ shortlist when Mike Bobo and Addazio were eventually hired instead.
Billy Gonzales, Florida passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach: Another former Ram (and an Alford teammate), the Thornton native worked with Urban Meyer from 2001-02 at Bowling Green and with Meyer and Addazio at Florida from 2005-09 before stints under Les Miles and Dan Mullen.
Alex Grinch, USC defensive coordinator: It’s a matter of time before someone hands Grinch the keys to his own program. Grinch was a top lieutenant for Mike Leach (Washington State), Urban Meyer (Ohio State) and Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma) and a recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach at Wyoming from 2009-11.
Sean Lewis, Kent State head coach: A young (35) offensive mind who’s won at Kent State with a high-tempo attack. If you can win with the Flashes (17-12 since 2019), you can win almost anywhere.
Jeff Traylor, Texas-San Antonio head coach: Want to recruit the Lone Star State? He’s your man. And the former Longhorns and Arkansas assistant is off to an 18-6 start as the head man with the Roadrunners.
Jeff Choate, Texas co-defensive coordinator: A longtime member of the Steve Pedersen coaching tree, Choate went 28-22 at Montana State before joining Steve Sarkisian’s staff in Austin. He had stints as an assistant at Utah State, Boise State.
Jay Hill, Weber State head coach: Former Utah Utes defensive back averaged 11 wins a year with the Wildcats from 2017-20, notching four Big Sky championships along the way.
Josh Gattis, Michigan offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach: Jerry Jeudy’s old mentor at Alabama is going to be getting some calls after successful turns under James Franklin, Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh.
Brent Vigen, Montana State head coach: Craig Bohl’s former right-hand man at Wyoming has North Dakota State roots, knows the Mountain West and is 8-1 in his first season with the Bobcats.
Jim McElwain, Central Michigan head coach: Shark jokes aside, the Rams could do worse than turning to an old friend again. McElwain broke hearts in FoCo when he bolted for the Florida head job in December 2014, but he’s been a consistent Group of 5 winner, posting a 22-15 mark in three seasons at CSU, a 22-12 record with the Gators and a 19-13 mark through three years in the MAC.
Kevin Wilson, Ohio State offensive coordinator. Wilson’s tenure as Indiana Hoosiers head coach ended poorly, with accusations of player mistreatment linked to his sudden resignation, but he was once a candidate for CSU. His Indiana teams were tough and physical, and he did take the Hoosiers to a pair of bowl games in his six-year tenure. Still, given the allegations that sprung up within the Rams athletic program recently, this one might be a longshot.
Matt Lubick, ex-Nebraska offensive coordinator/receivers coach. The CSU alum, and son of legendary Rams coach Sonny Lubick, saw his time with Nebraska come to an end in November after getting let go by Scott Frost. That said, the younger Lubick was once a Broyles Award nominee and is considered a top-notch recruiter. If anyone gets what CSU can be, it’s this guy.
Zach Azzanni, Broncos wide receivers coach. Personable, sharp and meticulous, you could do a lot worse than bringing in the guy who helped develop Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick into pros worthy of extensions. Would he bite at the chance to run his own show in FoCo? He played at a MAC school (Central Michigan), so he knows the challenges that come with Group of 5 institutions.