By Tanner Castora
Special to the Brookings Register
Today the Jackrabbit Former Players Association, known as the JFPA, is alive and well — but just six years ago, it was only an idea.
“We were walking around the tailgate one day and I couldn’t find my buddies — they were all over and it was kind of a weird deal,” JFPA President Ryan McKnight, who played at SDSU from 2006-10, said. “You spend five years of your life up here (Brookings), you should have a spot where you can go and say, ‘You know, maybe they won’t all be here today, but at least it felt like home.’”
The association steadily grew from there. And a year ago in Frisco, McKnight texted coach John Stiegelmeier asking if JFPA members could stop by to watch the Jacks go through their final team walk through, to which “Stig” said yes, asking how many members would be there.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, anywhere from 50-200 guys,’” McKnight began. “Next thing you know we had like 310 show up, and it wasn’t just from one era, it wasn’t just from the 2000s. We had guys from the 50s, 60s, 70s, it was cool.”
After the walk through it was time for the JFPA party, and their spectacular turnout at the Shark Bar in Plano, Texas, actually posed a problem.
“Our event didn’t start until seven last year and the bar was at capacity at 5:30,” JFPA member and former SDSU kicker (2006-10) Kyle Harris said. “There was a line of about 200 people out the door, it was quite impressive. But what irked me is you’d look outside and be like that guy needs to be in here, that guy was a football player, that guy needs to be in here.”
Shortage of space and Busch Lattes
“We went through about 1,200 in probably five hours and then we put another order in for 465 Busch Lights,” Shark Bar Sales Director Cole Bourassa said. “We had an emergency, our truck driver was driving around and he dropped off another pallet for us.”
He was then asked about how many Busch Lights the bar had on hand for this year.
“This year we’re starting with 2,000 and we’ve got our truck driver on speed dial again,” Bourassa said, smiling.
This year, the team’s final walk through in Frisco featured over 500 JFPA members and, afterward, the association had planned much better for its Saturday night event.
“This year, we decided to do tickets because that was the most appropriate, easiest way to make it fair,” JFPA Event Planner Ashley Koskovich, the wife of former SDSU offensive lineman Nate Koskovich, said.
“Each JFPA member (was) allowed one guest, whether it's a significant other, or a friend or maybe they’re trying to recruit an ex-teammate that they want to bring in to JFPA,” Harris said.
The 400-ticket event at the Shark Bar sold out in just three hours after being announced.
Help extends beyond football
Being a member of the association gives former teammates a great way to stay in touch and a great way to stay truly connected with the current team.
“With the landscape of college football today, we’ve got to continue to set ourselves apart, and I think listening to the coaches and listening to the players on what they want and being able to deliver on that helps better their experience, but then it also helps continue to grow the program,” Harris said.
They’ll often serve the team meals, buy them gear and equipment, such as the white helmets last season and the new blue rabbit helmets this year, but there’s more.
“We have a whole committee devoted to helping these guys find careers,” McKnight noted. “We want to make sure that once they're done, once Mason gets done with his 14-year NFL career, I want to make sure that we can help him find a career afterwards, find a job afterwards, come to us. We’ll help you, we will tear down buildings to help you find something.”
“It means the world that they (current players) still know us,” McKnight said, “and I promise you, we’re just getting started.”