From walk-on wideout to TD leader: ISU’s Sobkowicz works his way to big role

Daniel Sobkowicz began his Illinois State career as a walk-on wide receiver. He is now the team’s leader in touchdown receptions and is on scholarship. (Photo by

By Barry Bottino

A year ago, Daniel Sobkowicz was a walk-on wide receiver at Illinois State.

In August, he earned a scholarship.

Heading into the final month of the regular season, the redshirt freshman from Rolling Meadows High School is leading the Redbirds in touchdown catches.

How did Sobkowicz get here?

“It was definitely consistency of being in the weight room, working on my speed,” he said. “Being consistent with everything that we do, especially on breaks that we had off.

“I maybe had a week off (over the past 18 months), but I’d still lift and do other things.”

That same drive led Sobkowicz to train over the summer with former Redbird and NFL defensive back Tom Nelson at his Mount Prospect gym, Tom Nelson Training.

“I feel like I had the ball skills already,” said Sobkowicz, who has three TD catches and ranks third on the team in receptions (21) and receiving yards (249). “I can get better at that too, but speed was one of the most important things that I was lacking. I still have to work on getting faster.”

Sobkowicz scored ISU’s only touchdown last weekend in a 24-7 loss at North Dakota State. But individual achievements are not his focus.

“Obviously it’s great to be on scholarship, but I look at the bigger goal, the team goal. I’d rather go to the playoffs and make a big run,” he said.

The Redbirds (5-3 overall, 3-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) have three games remaining to convince the FBS playoff committee that they belong in the postseason. They are currently tied for fifth place in the MVFC with North Dakota and Youngstown State, Saturday’s visitor to Hancock Stadium in Normal.

The ISU schedule includes a road trip to No. 1 South Dakota State next weekend and a Nov. 19 home finale against winless Western Illinois.

“Right now, we are taking one week at a time,” Sobkowicz said. “Youngstown State is our priority. We kind of treat every week like it’s the playoffs.”

This week’s opponent

YSU senior running back Jaleel McLaughlin is the nation’s second-leading rusher (1,182 yards) and has helped the Penguins rank second in the MVFC in total offense (416.3 yards per game) and rushing offense (212.3). McLaughlin has the three best rushing games this season by an MVFC player (207 yards vs. Western Illinois, 203 vs. DuQuesne and 200 vs. Indiana State). … Sophomore defensive end Dylan Wudke is coming off a two-sack performance against South Dakota, which earned him MVFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The Penguins held USD to 56 yards rushing in a 45-24 victory. Youngstown ranks second among MVFC teams with 22 sacks (tied with Illinois State and South Dakota State). … In their five wins this season, Youngstown has scored at least 30 points in every game.

(Kickoff: 2 p.m.; TV: Marquee, ESPN-Plus; Radio:

Key matchup to watch

Redbirds QB Zack Annexstad vs. Young(stown) DBs: Now in his fifth season as a D-I football player, Annexstad is a seasoned veteran who has elevated the Illinois State passing game this fall. Annexstad’s experience could play a key role Saturday against YSU’s two leading tacklers – sophomore cornerback Jordan Trowers and senior free safety Quincy Lenton. Trowers played in two career games before this season, while Lenton played only four games last season. 

What’s at stake?

With a trip to South Dakota State up next, ISU needs a win against the Penguins to remain in the FCS playoff conversation.

Quick hits

Only one team – FBS Kentucky – has held McLaughlin under 100 yards rushing. By contrast, ISU has allowed one player to reach 100 yards – Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen (148) in the season opener. Last week in Fargo, six different NDSU players combined for 192 yards on the ground. … The Redbirds have allowed the 10th-fewest passing yards this season (1,412) among 123 FCS teams. … The Redbird defense ranks 18th nationally in points allowed per game (20.1), but the offense sits 103rd with 18.2 points a game.

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