BOZEMAN — Montana State safety Bryson McCabe will have South Dakota State receiver Jake Wieneke in his sights when the teams square off Saturday at Bobcat Stadium. But the players have a history that reaches beyond football.
McCabe and Wieneke both enrolled at South Dakota State and joined the Jackrabbits football program in the fall of 2013. They were both education majors, which put them in many of the same classes.
“I used to actually ride on his moped to class with him,” Wieneke said this week. “I didn’t want to walk, so I’d just hop on the back of his moped and we’d ride to class together.”
A lot has happened since. Wieneke, of course, became an All-America receiver and has the No. 4-ranked Jackrabbits poised for another run at a Missouri Valley Football Conference crown. McCabe, tough, took a more circuitous journey.
McCabe, who hails from Okoboji, Iowa, transferred to play at Iowa Western Community College after only one semester at SDSU. Then in 2015 he matriculated to Montana State, where he’s become a mainstay in defensive backfield.
McCabe was named second-team All-Big Sky last after last season.
“I got an opportunity to play college football” at South Dakota State, McCabe said. “Coach Stig (SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier) took a chance on a small-town kid, and I very (much) appreciate that.
“I was not the smartest 18-year-old; I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. It was a learning experience for me. If I stayed another semester I’d probably still be there. But I’m so glad I ended up out here.”
McCabe roomed that first semester at SDSU with Nick Farina, who is now the Jackrabbits’ starting strong safety. McCabe has also kept contact with Wieneke and other Jackrabbits like safety Chris Balster, running back Brady Mengarelli and receiver Jacob Menage.
“We’re pretty excited to get to see him on the field,” Wieneke said. “We knew freshman year he was going to be a great player. I’m excited to get to talk to him. Hopefully he doesn’t hit me too hard.”
Those friendships will be on hold Saturday.
For the Bobcats to beat the Jackrabbits, McCabe and his defensive mates must slow Wieneke, Mengarelli, quarterback Taryn Christion and NFL-caliber tight end Dallas Goedert, who at 260 pounds is a handful for any opponent.
McCabe said Goedert reminds him of former MSU tight end Beau Sandland, who was picked in the 2016 NFL draft by Carolina.
“Very tall, athletic,” McCabe said of Goedert. “You see him on film lining up in the slot. He can do it all. He can block. He’s a heck of a player.
“We’re going to have a challenge ahead of us, but we’ll be ready for it.”
Bringing an edge
In a 31-0 loss at Washington State last week, the Bobcats’ offensive line was roughed up by a quicker and more athletic front seven. As a result, the offense couldn’t get anything going.
MSU coach Jeff Choate referred to this week’s game as the Bobcats’ “first true test” on a more level playing field. Left tackle Dylan Mahoney expects a better performance from the offense.
“We’re eager, and you could sense it in the room on Sunday,” Mahoney said. “We need to step our game up. We definitely need to have that competitive edge. We’re very, very eager to bring it on Saturday in front of our home crowd.”
The Jackrabbits front seven is headlined by 315-pound tackle Kellen Soulek (7.5 sacks, 10 TFLs in 2016) and middle linebacker Christian Rozeboom, the Missouri Valley Football Conference freshman of the year last season.
SDSU isn’t known as a high-pressure defense, which Mahoney said is an indication of its ability to thrive as a rally-and-tackle unit.
“It shows that they have confidence that they’ll beat you one-on-one. That’s what their game plan is,” Mahoney said. “But we’ve got to be good one-on-one. That’s what it’s going to come down to.
“If we win those battles, get good movement up front and sustain our blocks we’ll do just fine.”