LINCOLN — Nebraska football was rolling in early September 2010, and Jimmie Forsythe headed to Memorial Stadium to see the Huskers follow up a 56-21 rout of Washington with a game against FCS program South Dakota State.
He saw score predictions calling for an even comfier margin than NU had enjoyed the week before. The Omaha Burke athlete instead got a long look at his future college home. The Jackrabbits dragged NU into the fourth quarter, losing just 17-3. And that was with an SDSU pick-six called back because of a penalty.
“They battled for four quarters,” said Forsythe, the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder who was a captain on The World-Herald's All-Nebraska team in 2010. He's now a sophomore cornerback with 10 tackles and one interception through three games. “That's when I took a lot of interest in SDSU.”
He's not the only Nebraskan to find his way to Brookings, S.D., where SDSU — ranked No. 6 in the Sports Network's FCS Top 25 — is building a new indoor practice facility, selling out its home games and preparing to play the Huskers on Saturday.
Fifteen of the Jackrabbits' players are from Nebraska. Five of the coaches have state of Nebraska ties of some kind, including defensive coordinator Clint Brown from Arlington, who had 18 tackles for the 1994 NU national title team.
That's a lot of homecomings — and a lot of tickets for Forysthe and other players to find.
“Pretty much everybody that I know is going to be there,” Forsythe said.
Senior wide receiver Brandon Hubert from Gretna, who appeared in the 2010 game and has eight catches for 72 yards and a touchdown this year, expects “at least 25” family members and friends. He said his parents are loading up their RV for Friday night, and SDSU will allow players to “spend a little time with our family” if they're already in town.
“I'll have a pretty big crew,” he said.
But not a big chip on his shoulder. The Jackrabbits — including their Nebraskans — have not built this game up as a season-definer, Forsythe and Hubert said. A Sept. 28 home game against North Dakota State — the FCS No. 1 and host of ESPN's “Game Day” program this week — is perhaps the game more prominently circled on the calendar. And after that, FCS playoffs loom. SDSU qualified last year and advanced to the second round, losing to NDSU.
The Jackrabbits have reached a point where they're more focused on their own progress than a giant they might slay, Hubert said.
“It's not like this week we're going to try harder because it's a 1-A opponent in Nebraska,” he said. “We give that effort every week.”
That growing success — coupled with facility renovations — makes graduate assistant coach Daniel Jackson think SDSU can become a Midwestern destination for players who don't earn FBS offers. Jackson, who played and coached at Burke and helps the Jackrabbits recruit in Nebraska, said SDSU wants to “establish a footprint” in the state and keep it.
“We want to make sure we're getting every kid out of Nebraska that we target,” Jackson said.
Including players with Husker walk-on offers. Nebraska's walk-on program has enjoyed a renaissance under coach Bo Pelini, who just recently awarded scholarships to several in-state walk-ons, including Omaha Westside's Ron Kellogg, Alliance's Brodrick Nickens and Gretna's Andy Janovich. NU announces a walk-on class each Signing Day along with scholarship players as proof of its importance.
Jackson said SDSU intends to compete aggressively anyway. Recently, Omaha Burke wide receiver/cornerback Trey Carr committed to SDSU — he remains open to FBS offers — while Creighton Prep quarterback Easton Stick, while open to FBS offers, has expressed interest in the Jackrabbits. Both were part of The World-Herald's Super Six this year.
“I don't think there's anything (Nebraska) can beat us on in terms of the walk-on deal,” Jackson said. “And I don't plan on losing kids to that anymore.”
SDSU can offer playing time earlier, he said, and while the Jackrabbits' stadium doesn't seat 92,000, it does sell out, and is slated for further renovation.
Forsythe, who played quarterback in high school and spent a redshirt year making the full transition to defense in college, said he warmed to the idea of playing earlier and having a scholarship.
“I knew that I could come here and, if I worked hard, I could play early,” Forsythe said. “Being at a big school like Nebraska, it'd be a little bit tougher to get on the field. I just love the game so much I wanted to go somewhere I could play right away.”
But he won't mind playing again at Memorial Stadium. Forsythe appeared there in the 2011 Shrine Bowl game. This time, he and several players who might have grown up NU fans will be trying to beat the home team.
“There's a little bit of a special bond with the Nebraska kids,” he said. “This week, everybody wants to win, but the Nebraska kids, we're going to be coming in there with a little bit more motivation.”
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Video: The Big Red Today Show, Sept. 18
Video: The Big Ten Preview Show, Sept. 18