Quinten Christensen continues to impress up front for South Dakota State football

Jan. 2—BROOKINGS — Quinten Christensen laughs and shakes his head at the notion that wearing jersey No. 83 has fooled anyone for even a moment.

After all, with hinged braces on both legs and standing at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, the Wessington Springs native doesn't quite match the typical tight end physique.

But Christensen's transformation to No. 83 was born out of necessity, not choice. The redshirt freshman offensive tackle, who sports the No. 69 at his natural position for the South Dakota State football program, has embraced a role as a tight end (effectively giving SDSU a sixth offensive lineman) in select personnel groupings. At his temporary position, Christensen is required to wear a number eligible for a tight end.

So on game days, Christensen suits up in his No. 69 jersey and then squeezes the No. 83 jersey over the top, playfully noting the ensemble gets a little tight. He wears both to be prepared in the event he has to go into the game as a true offensive lineman.

Given the No. 83 represents an opportunity for Christensen to contribute on game days, he doesn't mind the minor inconvenience.

"It's a pain in the butt, but it's just good to be out there playing. It's just been great to see my hard work come to fruition a little bit and get out on the field and have fun," Christensen said. "I think it's pretty similar to what the tackles do, so it's good to get live game reps, because it's definitely different than practice."

Though Christensen saw action in SDSU's season-opener against Division II Western Oregon and again two weeks later against Drake at Target Field in Minneapolis, both were in his role as a reserve offensive lineman with the Jackrabbits firmly in control during the second half. He did not see the field in a non-conference clash with then-No. 3 Montana State.

But during the two-week break before the first conference game, Christensen received a text from offensive line coach Ryan Olson asking Christensen to visit Olson's office.

"I just told him, 'Hey man, we're gonna slap you in an 80-number, learn a few formations and make people at least think about covering you," Olson recalled. "After that, a lot of it is just base plays and doing what we do."

Christensen's response was simple.

"Sure. Whatever I can do to get out there and play."

So, during SDSU's Missouri Valley Football Conference opener against North Dakota on Sept. 30, Christensen was unveiled as a tight end, serving as an extra blocker in several formations. That afternoon, the Jackrabbits rushed for 266 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-21 win.

"Quinten just works his butt off and is too good of a player to have sitting on the sidelines," SDSU head coach Jimmy Rogers said following the game. "Call it what (position) you want, he's really athletic, so teams are gonna need to scout for that pop pass. He's a great player who's earned those reps."

But the personnel groupings and formations that include Christensen as a tight end weren't a one-time gimmick. Helping bridge a gap created by a rash of lingering injuries to the tight ends, Christensen has appeared in every game since, making his way onto the field with personnel groupings labeled "12Q" or 13Q" to note his first initial.

"Having invested a lot of time into those (multiple tight end) offensive sets, we didn't want to throw all that out," Olson explained. "It allowed us to use those same formations and personnel packages that we'd worked at, and it got him on the field, which helped accelerate his development."

On a few occasions, he's started the game as No. 83 and finished as No. 69 — needing some assistance required to peel off the outer jersey — in order to take the field with SDSU's second-string offensive line late in one-sided victories.

"That first time, I just told myself to go out, do my best and work my butt off," Christensen said. "I've got to keep doing it since, so I guess it's worked out. I've been focused on staying consistent and preparing the same way."

The Jackrabbits have reaped the rewards, with Christensen chipping in on an offensive front that has paved the way for 230 yards per game at a clip of 6.4 yards per attempt, marks that rank No. 5 and No. 2 in the FCS in their respective categories.

"It's been fun to see him get out on the field because he's earned that opportunity," said sixth-year senior offensive tackle Garret Greenfield. "He's adapted to the new role very well and has a lot of pride in doing it the right way."

"How well he's played in games has made us feel even better about carrying those plays from week to week and putting him out there," Olson said. "His performance on Saturdays is what has allowed us to continue to use those personnel groups and made it sustainable."

Among the first traits exemplified by Christensen that Olson and Greenfield point out is his work ethic and how quickly he's progressed in his second year in the program.

"He truly loves football, and he's always chomping at the bit to get in a rep," Olson said. "I think he enjoys the work. When you enjoy it, you tend to work harder and get better faster, and his blue-collar mentality has lent itself to his increased rate of development. I feel like we're stealing reps for a guy who's hopefully going to play a lot of football for us in the future."

"We have a lot of competition in our room. No matter where you are on the depth chart, you're expected to work hard every day, and (Christensen) is a great embodiment of that," Greenfield added. "He just has a great attitude every day and takes coaching from Coach Olson or pointers from (the veteran lineman) really well. "

It goes both ways, with Christensen noting he wouldn't be where he's at if not for the coaching and the tutelage of All-Americans Greenfield and Mason McCormick.

"It's been great to have all these older guys to help me," Christensen said. "Throughout the year and the offseason, having them push me and work with me on technical stuff, it's helped me a lot."

In the not-too-distant future, Christensen hopes to earn an even larger role as a starting member of the vaunted "605 Hogs", the nickname for SDSU's offensive line. But in the more immediate timeline, he's focused on performing whatever function he can to help the Jackrabbits win a second straight FCS national championship.

Who knows? Perhaps he'll even have the opportunity to snag the pass Rogers hinted at in late September, which would only add to the mystique of that tight-fitting No. 83 jersey.

"I mean, it'd be cool," Christensen said with a small grin. "I don't think it's happening since we have so many weapons on the field, but I suppose I could (catch a pass)."