Today’s blog post doesn’t refer to the FCS projected playoff field, although we will feature another bracketology show on Saturday night and of course a live blog on Sunday morning before ESPN’s show, but rather the 24 seniors that will be honored before Saturday’s game with South Dakota. I have said for some time that this is one of the best classes in NDSU history and it could be considered the best depending on what happens this season. Today a look at each senior and the contribution to the squad, these are in no particular order.
1) Cooper Wahlo - Wahlo came to NDSU with some high aspirations but has struggled to consistently stay on the field. Wahlo has dealt with injuries, a broken leg sidelined him last season, but in his brief time on the field has shown off that terrific speed, he collected his 1st touchdown reception this season against Delaware State.
2) Taylor Nelson - Nelson’s size (6’4) raised plenty of eyebrows when he arrived from Minnetonka, his path to the field was blocked by Matt Veldman, but after his graduation, Nelson made his mark with a touchdown reception against Robert Morris, one of three TD’s last season. He hasn’t found the end zone this year, but his value has been blocking and opening holes for Sam Ojuri and John Crockett.
3) Andrew Nack - His presence will go unnoticed by nearly every Bison fan, Nack was a walk-on, who has stayed all four years and provided depth up front, Jeff has a story on Andrew you won’t want to miss in Saturday’s paper.
4) AJ Van Voorhis - Another grit guy his play again goes under the radar, but not to opponents on special teams. Van Voorhis is usually one of the first guys down the field in the gunner role and usually blowing up a defender on a punt return. Has seen some playing time in the secondary, but a glue guy on special teams.
5) Anthony Lavoy- Lavoy cemented his place in Bison fans hearts forever in last year’s playoffs when he blocked a Wofford field goal in the 4th quarter as NDSU grinded out a win. Lavoy switched spots during the season last year from offensive to defensive line and was huge when called upon during last year’s playoff run.
6) Antonio Rodgers - Rodgers role has been minimum so far, but with the injury to Grant Olson he could be heard from over the next few weeks, he is one of the few JUCOs on the Bison roster and has provided some depth in the linebacker core.
7) Jeremy Gordon - Gordon is another of the JUCOs on the roster, he’s seen his playing time increase this season on the defensive line, his story even more impressive considering he’s playing with a partially torn ACL and has been a disruptor up front for the best d-line in FCS.
8) Brendin Pierre- Pierre was thrust right into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2009 and was a difference maker, he broke his wrist early in 2010 and lost his starting spot to Josh Gatlin, he had to sit out 2011 because of grades, but returned last season and was a big factor in a deep secondary, he’s battled injuries again this season, but made a big play against Illinois State two weeks ago.
9) Derrick Lang - “Langer” as he’s referred to, is a glue guy in my mind, one of those players you need on a team. You wouldn’t know that he’s played in 52 of 54 games since walking-on to the Bison, but his legacy was sealed at K-State when he caught a Brock Jensen pass on 3rd and 11 on “The Drive” and got the 11 yards (barely) to keep NDSU on the field that led to the game-winning score.
10) Kevin Vaadeland- He’s been a touchdown machine in his senior season, 12 receptions, six of them for scores, as he’s become one of Jensen’s main targets in the redzone. After serving primarily as a blocker, he emerged last season including a nice touchdown reception against UNI and imagine his role will continue to grow into the postseason.
11) Tyler Gimmestad - Gimmestad has been the mainstay at right guard for the past three seasons, another player that switched from defense to offense, but found his role at right guard in 2011 and hasn’t lost his spot since. Gimmestad is another in a long line of terrific offensive linemen, who endeared himself to Bison fans when he came in in the second half of the UNI game this year on one leg and helped NDSU rally to beat the Panthers.
12) Bryan Shepherd - Shepherd has been tremendous this year, another senior playing his best football in his final year, he’s been terrific in the secondary and another factor on special teams. Shepherd missed most of 2012 with a serious kidney injury and was a depth guy when Pierre was ruled ineligible in 2011, another guy who has shown up and made plays.
13) Michael Murphy - Simply put, no one will known Murphy’s name, he’s one of two players to play in all 54 games since 2010, he was recruited specifically as a long snapper, his story is here.
14) Sam Ojuri - Ojuri has had a star-crossed career at NDSU, he played as a true freshman in 2009, then sat out 2010 as he was suspended from the team. His return in 2011 was electric joining DJ McNorton to give the Bison an unreal 1-2 punch. He’s teamed with John Crockett the last two years and is just 116 yards away from a third straight 1,000 yard season. He may not be automatically thought of as one of the best running backs in Bison history, but he’s been very very good.
15) Andrew Grothmann - The man blocking for Ojuri doesn’t get much press, but has been just as valuable, Grothmann came to NDSU off a spectacular prep career at Hillsboro, he’s another of the 2009 class that was redshirted and his value has risen each year, he caught his first touchdown reception this season and his opened up numerous holes for Ojuri and Crockett to run through.
16) Cole Jirik - The other player to go in all 54 games to date, Jirik has been a force on the defensive line since he cracked the lineup in 2010. His speed and size was felt in the SDSU game in 2010 when the Bison ended a three game losing streak to the Jacks, he’s racked up 22.5 sacks during his career, he’s dealt with a shoulder injury most of 2013, but his presence on the d-line will be huge going into the playoffs.
17) Danny Luecke - Much has been written about the exploits of “Danny Football”, the road from walk-on at Fargo South to blowing out his ACL in 2010 to now being a huge piece of the Bison defensive line, to starting at Kansas State this year. He is another in the long-line of great players that have walked on to the Bison football team and his story is one of the best of this senior class.
18) Leevon Perry - Perry has been a defensive force since cracking the lineup, I remember a huge sack he had against UNI in 2010 in a game NDSU had no business being in they nearly won thanks to a terrific defensive performance. His 2012 was tremendous, he was named 2nd team all-conference and that’s despite missing basically the last two games after he suffered a serious knee injury. Perry has returned in 2013 and been a great player on the d-line, I’m curious to see if he has potential beyond the college game.
19) Ryan Drevlow - Another guy that was redshirted in 2009 and that pays off in 2013, Drevlow found his way into the starting lineup in 2011 and immediately became a run-stopper, Bison fans will remember that he missed the Youngstown game that year and the Penguins ran wild. He returned to the lineup and teamed with Perry to be two of the best interior lineman in FCS, he’s saved his best football for his senior year racking up 4.5 sacks, a career high.
20) Ryan Smith - Smith arrived from Wahpeton as one of the best running backs in North Dakota, but will leave NDSU in the top five of career receptions at the school. He’s become Brock Jensen’s safety net, Smith has been tremendous wherever he’s been on the field, from returning punts to the slot to the crazy alignment play against SDSU in the playoffs last year. When he’s missed games it’s been noticeable for the Bison offense, NDSU hasn’t moved the ball thru the air nearly as well and the Bison will need a healthy Smith to keep the offense rolling in the playoffs.
21) Billy Turner - Still shocked that Turner is at NDSU, he came into the lineup in the disaster at Northern Iowa in 2010 and hasn’t left it. Turner has become the rock that you need at left tackle, he was named an All-American last season joining a prestigious list of former Bison linemen in that category. Turner has struggled slightly this season with false start penalties, but there’s no doubt his size, speed and ability with allow him to play at the next level and his ability to stay healthy at a spot where injuries always happen is something to marvel at.
22) Marcus Williams - Williams has been the game-changer that Craig Bohl was hoping he was going to be when came to Fargo in 2009, we saw it in the first game he played at Kansas in 2010 breaking up a would-be touchdown pass. He holds the school record for interceptions at 20, five of them have been returned for touchdowns and all of them have been at huge moments, think Eastern Washington in ’10, Minnesota and Illinois State in ’11 and Youngstown last year. His ability to return kicks has been off the charts as well, now he’s had his moments of inconsistency this season and dealt with injuries, but I believe a healthy Williams could be dangerous in the playoffs.
23) Brock Jensen - Jensen is already in the conversation of best quarterbacks in Bison history and a championship this year and he’ll be number one. Jensen arrived off a state championship high school team and has brought that winning attitude to Fargo. Jensen’s sophomore year will go down as one of the best in school history and his ability to run the football is a special trait and it’s led directly to wins, think Georgia Southern and K-State. He’s been even better in 2013, now the school’s all-time record holder in TD passes and passing, he shows you what can happen to a program when you have elite quarterback play.
24) Grant Olson - There’s not much I can add here that hasn’t already been said or written. Olson is the type of player that every team wants, he started as a freshman, saw his playing time dip a bit as a sophomore, then emerged as a team captain in 2012 and etched his place in Bison history with a 29 tackle performance in the playoffs followed up by playing in the title game after being in the hospital five days earlier with a swollen appendix. That’s why Olson’s injury hit the players hard, his presence will definitely be missed and I believe he will get the loudest ovation and be the final player introduced on Saturday.
There you have it folks, pretty easy to see why this team is 47-7 since 2010 and has a shot to make history this year.