Casey’s mighty walk imitates a mightier alma mater

Last September, Casey Hillman, who played Jackrabbit football from 1988 to 2001, walked from Deadwood to Brookings.


Four hundred miles.

He moved along at the rate of three miles an hour through wind, rain, and maybe a patter of hail from time-to-time. In the Huron area, lightning was his major concern. Boredom was another problem. And there was the daily temptation of not accepting ride offers from friendly farmers and SDSU alumni.

He stuck to his goal and finished the blistering trip in two grueling, foot-sore weeks. He did it out of admiration for Jackrabbit football, to raise funds for that program, and to promote SDSU. Pledges to date have topped $10,000.

Good for Casey. I’m very sure no one has ever made that walk before, but if so, his is undoubtedly the longest hike ever on behalf of SDSU.

While he was walking, SDSU was also covering ground with some jaw-dropping impressive accomplishments of its own. To compare the two, let’s record Casey’s 400 miles another way . . . in CHMs, or Casey Hillman Miles.
His long, lonely odyssey out of the mountains and onto the Dakota flatland sea of grass was a singular effort, but for SDSU, reaching equivalent CHMs required teamwork.

Research dollars

It took a cadre of researchers, technicians, and administrators to emulate Casey’s resolve and determination, and working together, SDSU teams set a record for research dollars brought to the campus and to the state. The more than $66.5 million amounts to $165,000 per CHM and is more than 40 percent of all research dollars awarded in South Dakota.

Enrollment records

Enrollment records were also set last fall.

As Casey was leaning into the ubiquitous Dakota wind, nursing sore feet and probably hearing an inner voice asking “what have I gotten myself into,” 12,816 young men and women, including a record 2,247 freshmen, were eagerly walking up to the SDSU admissions office to sign on as welcomed citizens of Jackrabbit nation.

The University’s total enrollment boils down to about thirty-two SDSU students per CHM. By the way, this notable enrollment makes SDSU’s 273-acre campus with its twenty miles of sidewalks, four miles of streets, 567 street lights, and 7,730 parking spots, the state’s eighth largest community, just behind Yankton.

Economic impact

Another way of putting Casey’s trek in an SDSU perspective is to compare it with the annual economic impact his alma mater has on the state.

A Board of Regents study reveals SDSU is a $766 million cash cow for South Dakota. Casey paid his own way, leaving his job behind and investing hard-earned dollars in a pizza, pop and a motel room most nights in more than fifteen South Dakota towns located in eleven South Dakota counties that together have more than 6,000 young residents enrolled at State.

That equals the number of students enrolled this year in all four of the state’s tech schools, or a couple of the state’s six public-supported colleges.
Not including Casey’s trip expenses, SDSU impacts his beloved state economically by about $1.95 million per CHM.

Casey, now back at work in the family plumbing business in Sioux Falls, says he’s through setting records.

His alma mater isn’t. Watch for more to come.

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Hillman’s fund-raising journey hasn’t ended yet
There’s still time to give to Casey Hillman’s Jackrabbit Journey. The money he has raised by walking across South Dakota will fund scholarships for student-athletes.
To make a contribution, contact the SDSU Foundation toll-free at 888-747-7378 or e-mail Make sure to indicate that the gift is for the Jackrabbit Journey.

Chuck’s Column is sponsored by Nick’s Hamburgers If you’d like to make a comment, e-mail the author at, find him on Facebook, or read more of his work and view other interesting tidbits at

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