Jake Wieneke’s childhood football idol, like many kids growing up in Minnesota in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was Vikings star Randy Moss.
And as Wieneke’s football career took shape, he ended up resembling Moss’ physical stature as a 6-foot-4 wide receiver at Maple Grove.
He had the size. His high school numbers were impressive. But that wasn’t enough.
Not enough to overshadow one poor 40-yard dash performance at a Gophers camp in 2012, according to Wieneke’s high school coach Matt Lombardi.
“He was battling a foot injury at that time,” Lombardi said. “That was something that hurt him back then. He was a big kid, but (the Gophers) were worried about his speed. I’m happy for Jake that he went somewhere where they wanted him — and he’s had an unbelievable career.”
Not getting a Minnesota scholarship offer ended up being the best thing to happen to his career.
Now a South Dakota State senior receiver, Wieneke is rated by pro scouting services as Football Championship Subdivision’s No. 1 prospect and a top-10 player at his position for the 2018 NFL Draft.
One of the best players from Minnesota playing college football right now doesn’t hold any grudges against the home state Big Ten program for not believing in him.
“I wanted to go to Minnesota,” Wieneke said Monday. “I wanted to stay home and play there, but I just love it out here at South Dakota State. I couldn’t ask for a better place. These coaches and this program are something special.”
The Jackrabbits, a preseason top-five FCS team, reached the national tournament quarterfinals for the first time last year. They were 9-3 and co-Missouri Valley Conference champions. The biggest play of the season, maybe in recent program history, came on Wieneke’s 2-yard touchdown catch on fourth down with a second left to upset top-ranked North Dakota State in Fargo.
“The last drive against NDSU was fun,” Wieneke said. “My quarterback, Taryn Christion, just led us all the way down the field. He showed great poise. It was so loud. If you’ve ever been to the Fargo Dome, it’s a fun place to play. Beating them just showed we really can compete for a championship.”
The Bison, who won five straight national titles before last season, brought more national attention and exposure to the FCS. The ultimate sign of respect for that level came when ex-NDSU quarterback Carson Wentz was drafted No. 2 overall by Philadelphia in 2016.
Wieneke recognizes now that you don’t have to play for a Power Five program or even the FBS level to be picked high. Some experts see him as the next Wentz.
The three-time All-American ranks as SDSU’s all-time leader in touchdown catches (43) and receiving yards (4,192). But Wieneke’s performances against FBS schools really opened eyes of NFL scouts.
Last year, Wieneke had an eight-catch, 196-yard, two-touchdown game in a 59-41 loss at Texas Christian. He had eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the Jackrabbits’ win at Kansas in 2015. He also had six catches for 107 yards in a loss against Missouri as a redshirt freshman in 2014.
Three years ago, Wieneke was a teammate of Eagan native Zach Zenner, who is now a running back for the Detroit Lions. Zenner’s path to the NFL could soon be followed by Wieneke.
“I wanted to play at the highest level I could in the FBS,” Wieneke said. “Playing in the Big Ten would’ve been awesome and playing for the University of Minnesota. But I got an offer from South Dakota State. They were my highest offer I could play. So I just said, ‘I’m going to go there and do the best I can there.’ And it’s really been a lot of fun.”