Caleb Sanders

(Brookings) -- Glenwood graduate Caleb Sanders is in the final year of a productive football career at South Dakota State.

The former state champion wrestler came to Brookings in 2018 and has been a five-year contributor to one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

"I didn't know how good I would be," Sanders said. "But I had high expectations of myself for great things."

Sanders was an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First Team choice in 2020-21 and a second-teamer in 2021, and he entered this season as an FCS Preseason All-American choice.

He amassed 104 tackles, 34 for loss and 14 sacks during his five years at South Dakota State.

"I love it here," Sanders said. "It's been a lot of fun. I play football, go to class and hang out with my friends."

Sanders made an instant impact on the Jackrabbits, compiling 15 tackles and seven for loss during his freshman year.

"It was a lot of playing right away," he said. "It was a big slate to handle, but I had great guys to help me out."

Sanders posted 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2019, 26 tackles and 4 sacks in the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season and 34 tackles with 6.5 sacks in 2021.

Sanders has seven tackles through three games for the FCS No. 2 Jackrabbits this year.

Sanders never lacked talent at Glenwood, where he was a three-time all-state choice. Sanders says his mental approach to the game has improved since he stepped on campus.

"The biggest thing has been my all-around football knowledge," he said. "Knowing what the defense does helps me play fast. My pass-rush wasn't good in high school, but it's gone up since I've been here."

Of the 54 games he's appeared in at South Dakota State, Sanders says this year's 7-3 loss to Iowa and their rivalry battles with FCS powerhouse North Dakota have stood out.

"Iowa was a big one for me," Sanders said. "Being back home and playing in front of 70,000 people was fun. College GameDay was here against North Dakota State for my sophomore year. That was a lot of fun. Those games have been memorable."

The season-opening loss to Iowa is the Jackrabbits' lone blemish. They've since posted wins over UC-Davis and Butler. They appear to be among the favorites in the MVFC and across the nation, along with rival North Dakota State.

The Jackrabbits have won plenty during Sanders' time. They compiled a 40-15 record, made four playoff appearances and played in the 2020-21 FCS National Championship Game, where they lost to Sam Houston State.

"It starts with leadership," Sanders said. "The guys have just bought in. Everyone has their eyes on a national championship. That helps with our success."

South Dakota State returns to action Saturday against Missouri State. They also have big upcoming matchups with rivals South Dakota State and North Dakota State.

"It's a dog fight every week (in the MVFC)," he said. "Every team is good. It's important to just look one week at a time."

Check out the full interview with Sanders below. 

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