As South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier gathered his six captains before the start of the 2017 season, he presented them with a list of goals. One of them was to finish as a top-eight team and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Senior captain Dallas Goedert interrupted his head coach.
"He said, 'Coach, I think you're wrong. With all of the respect in the world, I think we've got to put down on paper top-two seed,'" Stiegelmeier recalled. "It wasn't with arrogance. It wasn't with not being able to back it up. That's the way he plays. He plays like a champion."
The Jackrabbits won a school-record 11 games. They earned a first-round bye in the process, the No. 5 spot, and advanced to the semifinals before losing to James Madison. Goedert did his part with 72 catches for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns. He was a first-team All-America and finalist for the Walter Payton Award (the FCS Heisman) for a second straight season.
The 6-5, 260-pound tight end concluded his college career with an impressive list of achievements:
• Third in career receptions at South Dakota State with 198
• Fourth in career receiving yards with 2,988
• Fifth in school history with 21 career touchdown receptions
• Set single-season record with 92 receptions in 2016
• One of only three players in program history to post back-to-back seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards
Not bad for someone who was discovered by a former assistant coach who is now a pastor in Milbank, South Dakota. The pastor, Carl Larson, saw Goedert's nine-player team from Britton-Hecla High School and reached out to Stiegelmeier.
"It's been phenomenal. His work ethic has been off the charts," Stiegelmeier said. "Obviously, he's gifted genetically. There's so much more. His focus, his goals, I think one of the top things is his belief in himself. All of the credit goes to Dallas Goedert. He's been a phenomenal hard worker and a great leader for us."
In addition to his individual accolades, South Dakota State reached the FCS playoffs in each of Goedert's four seasons and captured the school's first Missouri Valley Football Conference title in 2016.
"We asked a lot of Dallas Goedert in terms of plays and motions and formations. He seldom made a mental error. He's very smart football-wise," Stiegelmeier said. "His athletic ability for his size is special then his hands are phenomenal. I wish I could have played quarterback with him as a tight end. If you get it close to him, he'll catch the ball. Then, his confidence. He wanted the ball. He wanted to be moved around. We played him in so many different positions that he just kept eating it up and helping us win football games."
The Eagles' top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will be on the field Friday for the first time as a member of the team when Rookie Camp commences.