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Around the Valley: Illinois State counting on Gopher transfer at quarterback

Zack Annexstad has provided the Redbirds some instant leadership for a team in need of offense

102221.s.ff.bisonroques
North Dakota State's Loshiaka Roques tracks down Illinois State quarterback Bryce Jefferson at Hancock Stadium in Normal, Ill., on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.
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FARGO — The statistics didn’t lie for Illinois State in 2021. The Redbirds were last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in passing offense and total offense and next-to-last in scoring offense, a far cry from those explosive few years when they reached the Division I FCS national title game in 2014.

A solution may have come in the offseason when quarterback Zack Annexstad transferred from the University of Minnesota. Annexstad was an immediate hit in 2018 when he was named the Gopher starting QB as a walkon freshman, but has not seen the field much since.

He was injured in 2019, did not play in the pandemic-interrupted 2020 season and played in just two games in a relief role last year.

A change in scenery appears just what he needed.

“Quarterback is such a huge position to have a void in, can’t be short there and we were last year,” said ISU head coach Brock Spack. “He’s been an awesome addition to our team. He’s changed our team immensely with his presence.”

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The Redbirds’ passing offense last year barely registered in effectiveness. Sophomore Jackson Waring played in eight games completing 71 of 130 passes with six touchdowns and four interceptions. Bryce Jefferson, who has since transferred and was the starter in ISU’s last three games against North Dakota State, was just 45 of 94 passing last season with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota
Former Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad (5) drops back to pass against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first quarter of an Oct. 6, 2018 game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports

Jefferson was 4 of 18 passing against the Bison last year in a 20-0 NDSU win. Annexstad, who played high school at Mankato West (Minn.) before going to a prep academy, will be counted on to fix the issues.

“His leadership is extraordinary,” Spack said. “I haven’t been around a guy like him for a while. Our leadership took a step back and he took the reins and has done a great job. We needed that badly. We’re learning how to get a lot of people involved and knowing where to go with the football, understanding coverages and where the pressure is coming from.”

Quarterback isn’t the only position to use the transfer portal. The Redbirds welcomed Sy Dabney (Bowling Green), Larry Tracy IIIK (Indiana) and Deandre Lamont (Central Arkansas) to their defensive backfield.

“I think we filled some holes with transfer guys and some younger guys are starting to develop,” Spack said.

Missouri Valley Football Conference preview lineup:

Today: Illinois State Redbirds

Day 2: Indiana State Sycamores

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Day 3: Missouri State Bears

Day 4: North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Day 5: Northern Iowa Panthers

Day 6: South Dakota Coyotes

Day 7: South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Day 8: Southern Illinois Salukis

Day 9: Western Illinois Leathernecks

Day 10: Youngstown Penguins

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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