VERMILLION, S.D. | The easily recognizable kid with long blonde hair has already made an impact in his first two University of South Dakota football games.
Kody Case, a freshman wide receiver from Lake City, Iowa (South Central Calhoun High School), has blazing speed and a knack for getting open at just the right time.
That has resulted in touchdowns in his first two collegiate games while providing the Coyotes with an additional big-play threat in an already deep and talented receiving corps.
“He’s hit the ground running and we talked to our freshmen about that,” South Dakota Coach Bob Nielson said. “We told them we want you guys to come in and compete and Kody has certainly done that.
“He’s a guy that showed his speed on the long touchdown pass (72-yarder against Bowling Green) and is an explosive player and a young man who is going to continue to make a lot of improvement and a lot of plays for us over his career.”
Case, who wears No. 6 and an impressive lock of hair that flows out the back of his helmet, didn’t take long to haul in his first touchdown pass in a USD uniform. He caught a 23-yard strike from Chris Streveler with 13 seconds left in the first quarter of the season opener at Drake, part of a 56-point first-half explosion by the Coyotes.
Case shook off first-game jitters to catch three passes for 40 yards in a 77-7 blowout of Drake in Des Moines. Then, in a 35-27 victory at Bowling Green last Saturday, he caught three more, including a 72-yard scoring strike as part of a 21-point first quarter.
"Coaches are putting people in the right spots to make plays and quarterbacks are putting the ball on the money,” Case said. “So, it’s an easy job for me.”
Case finished with 130 yards against Bowling Green, leaving him just 30 shy of 200 in two games.
Because he’s small in stature (5-10, 165), speed has always been Case’s biggest ally. In high school, he was a two-time all-state selection and holds school records for points (354), all-purpose yards (5,060), receiving yards (2,205) and receiving touchdowns (32).
Case, though, found out right away that the college game is much faster.
“There’s so much more to the wide receiver position than I thought there could be,” Case said. “The biggest thing off the field is probably time commitment and on the field the speed is just so much different than the high school level. Everyone is just as fast as you so you have to focus on coming out of your breaks and running the right routes all the time.”
Case joined a Coyote receiving corps that included veterans Brandt Van Roekel, Riley Donovan and Alonge Brooks, along with Shamar Jackson, Randy Baker and Trystn Ducker – three players who made sizeable contributions as freshmen last season.
“It’s just the older guys sitting me down, helping me with the playbook, how to run the routes,” Case said. “I wouldn’t be playing at all without them helping me out along the way.”
Van Roekel, a senior from Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley who has battled injuries his entire career, sustained yet another after catching a touchdown pass early in the game against Drake. That opened up more playing time for Case and redshirt freshman Levi Falck, who’s also become one of Streveler’s top targets.
”With our depth at receiver and a couple of guys who are banged up a little bit, we’ve had to utilize maybe even a little bit more depth there than we anticipated using,” Nielson said. “Kody has stepped up when the opportunities have been created for him.”
The thrill of catching a touchdown pass in his first game is something Case will never forget.
“It was amazing, after it happened I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face,” Case said. “Everyone was just picking me up and cheering me on and I didn’t know what to do to be honest. I was just so happy.”
Case was attracted to South Dakota by the coaching staff, specifically Nielson, receivers coach Matthew Middleton and former assistant Collin Prosser (now at Minnesota-State), who was responsible for recruiting Case.
“I remember when I was a little kid I came to the dome when I was like 7 years old and watched Wesley Beschorner, who was a graduate of our high school, and Stephon Logan,” Case said. “Seeing those guys fly around the field it was my dream to play in the dome.”
Case will get his first chance to play at the DakotaDome Saturday when the No. 23 Coyotes host No. 10 North Dakota.
With success comes failure and Case has experienced both, having fumbled on a punt return to set up a Bowling Green touchdown.
“It is a learning experience but that kind of stuff can’t happen,” Case said. “It was a big momentum shift in the game. We have to correct that and keep taking the coaching from Coach Middleton and the older guys.”