Christian Rozeboom let his play do the talking in 2016 as a redshirt freshman linebacker for South Dakota State. With two experienced senior linebackers on both sides of him, the Sioux Center, Iowa, native racked up 132 total tackles in the middle of the Jackrabbit defense to rank him fourth in the FCS.
Rozeboom expects to have even more production on the field in the fall. But there's another aspect of his game he'll need to do more of: becoming a vocal leader.
That begins during spring practice as the Jackrabbits look to replace Jesse Bobbit and Dallas Brown.
"Obviously without those guys I have to be the voice on the field," Rozeboom told HERO Sports. "But (my teammates) will know what they're doing. It's not like I have to help do their job for them. It's just helping them out and getting them in the right calls and making them feel comfortable out there."
Rozeboom brings the most game experience as a sophomore to the linebacker group. As the middle backer, Rozeboom was already asked to do a lot of communicating on the field. Setting the defensive fronts and making sure his teammates were in the right spots was his responsibility, even as a freshman. It's in between plays or in between possessions on the sidelines that he will be asked to lead more.
A year ago, Rozeboom's main goal during the spring was to do whatever it took to help his chances of getting on the field in the fall. Once he solidified his starting spot, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder shined. His play on the field earned him a spot on the all-Missouri Valley Football Conference first team along with being named conference Freshman of the Year.
Now, with 10 pounds added to his frame, Rozeboom is fully comfortable and confident in the defense.
"It's a lot less stressful," he said. "Last year the focus was on knowing what I was doing, learning plays and having good hustle. This year I'm a lot more free just because I know what I'm doing. It's expanding on the little things that I didn't focus on last year because I was so worried about getting in the right fits. It's more of an instinct now."
SDSU enjoyed its best season in program history last season. It was the offense that got most of the national love as the Jacks' passing game scorched opponents to the program's first MVFC championship and first appearance in the FCS quarterfinals. The defensive unit continued to get better as the season progressed, including a key performance in the second round of the playoffs in a 10-7 win.
The 2017 Jackrabbits, featuring plenty of returning starters, finally got to hit the field together as spring practices have begun. Rozeboom said the team has a new sense of hunger once winter workouts began, fresh off a historic season.
"There's a little bit of extra motivation there," Rozeboom said. "We had a great season, but it wasn't enough. We've been working harder this year in the offseason workouts. Come spring, just doing that little extra that we didn't do last year. Last year wasn't enough and we weren't where we needed to be at the end of the season."