SPEARFISH — At 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, Jarrell Ganaway is often an outside linebacker disguised as a hybrid defensive end.
His length and athletic ability creates havoc, hence the nine quarterback sacks in the past two seasons.
It’s no wonder that the Black Hills State University coaching staff have the redshirt junior all over the football field.
“Third and long, I can get on the line and rush the passer. First and 10, I’ll be back like a real linebacker,” Ganaway said Saturday after the annual Green and White Spring Game at Lyle Hare Stadium.
Last season Ganaway also finished with 46 tackles, 20 assisted, one blocked kick, one pass interception and one forced fumble.
Sacking the quarterback is still his specialty, his passion.
He said he began rushing the quarterback as a senior at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, Colorado. But it wasn't until former teammate Jared Tiefenthaler worked with him to, "hone his skills as a pass rusher."
Pass rushing is a game within a game, Ganaway says.
"It is a very intricate part of the game,” he said. “Now I get to learn the footwork, the handwork. Pass rushing is the best thing that I can do, honestly; it’s my favorite thing to do.”
BHSU defensive coordinator Anthony Kerr loves Ganaway’s length and his wingspan. It helps him to get off the edge and keep the offensive linemen away from him.
“The one thing that we have really worked hard with him on this spring is to make him a better linebacker, not just a pass rusher," Kerr said. "Let’s work on your pass drops, let’s work on your run reads, your folding in and taking care of the edge. He did a real nice job of that this spring.”
Athletics and athleticism run in his bloodline. Ganaway thanks his mother (Dawn) and father (LaVerne) for that. LaVerne played football for Tarkio College, while Dawn excelled in high school basketball (6-on-6 in Iowa), as well as in volleyball. Older brother Preston played basketball at Cornell College in Iowa.
“Athletics have always been a big part of me, whether it was basketball, football, and a little baseball,” he said. “Sports in general, competition, is what our family lives for. Mom was a basketball player, Pops was a football player. Older brother was a basketball player, and here I am being blessed to play football at Black Hills State University."
There are some advantages and disadvantages of being a tall linebacker, Ganaway said.
The advantages include arm length and vision.
“I can keep them at bay with the arms," he said. "Being tall, you can see into the backfield. Linemen are tall too, but right when the play is snapped, I can get a better view of the quarterback.”
The disadvantages include his long legs getting cut and pad level.
“I’m a little more viable to get cut by linemen or a running back. I have a lot of leg for them to cut. That is one thing I always have to be worried about," he said. “When I go against a lineman, I have to consciously think to stay lower because, if I am too high, they can bury me easily."
Ganaway was honorable mention All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference last season, but he was disappointed, like the rest of his teammates, when the Jackets fell from 7-4 in 2016 to 4-6 in 2017.
“I had a decent season this past year, but it is never good enough until this team gets more wins and we get to where we want to be: conference championships, finding the playoffs,” he said. “Individual things are cool, but until this team gets the W’s that we are looking for, I’m never satisfied.”
Black Hills State has also been somewhat inconsistent defensively the last couple of years, peaking two years ago when they were among the national leaders in takeaways.
For the Jackets to make improvements, Ganaway said they have to play fast and physical, and attack.
“If we do those things and listen to what Coach (Kerr) has to say, everything will fall in place,” he said. “I like what our defense brings to the table. We have a group of guys who really want to get after it. Whereas certain mistakes can be made, us playing at the speed I know we can play at, we can make up for some of those mistakes. If you make a mistake, make it at 100 percent and something will fall into place.”
Despite the inconsistency of the weather, Ganaway said they had a good spring.
“I always make sure I don’t get into what I call ‘spring ball tunnel vision.’ When the offense is having a good day against us, it makes me mad because, as a defense, we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing. But at the end of the day, that is still my team and we’re having a good day," said Ganaway, a sociology and psychology double major who plans to go to graduate school and become a school counselor like his mother.
"If they (the offense) are working us, that means they will be doing work against other teams on Saturdays when it matters. We’re all just working to sharpen each other; iron sharpens iron. We’re all out here to get better.”