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Vaadeland, Bison seek 4th title in row

Kevin Vaadeland walked off the first North Dakota State University spring football practice without the aid of a cane or any noticeable hint of arthritis. It's sort of been the standing joke with his teammates - he's the oldest player on the team...

     Kevin Vaadeland walked off the first North Dakota State University spring football practice without the aid of a cane or any noticeable hint of arthritis. It’s sort of been the standing joke with his teammates – he’s the oldest player on the team and everybody involved has enjoyed the banter.

     Quarterback Carson Wentz said he calls Vaadeland the team’s 40-year-old tight end. When Vaadeland tweeted in January that he was using a medical hardship and returning for his sixth year of school to play football, he could have used the hashtag #grandpavaadeland.

     “I’m going to embrace it,” he said.

     Know this: the Bison offense is embracing having him back. It wasn’t a surprise because the Bison coaches knew it was a possibility. Vaadeland said he was 99 percent sure all along he was going to return.

     “A lot of it had to do with the fact I had to sit out my first two years,” he said. “I wanted to get that extra year plus the tight end is a position that isn’t stacked with experienced players so I wanted to stay and help out in that area, too.”

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     Give several other players and coaches an assist in helping the keep-Kevin-here process along. There are seven tight ends on the Bison spring football roster but only Vaadeland has extensive experience. It gives a quarterback like Wentz a reliable veteran while the younger players continue to learn the system.

     “I was hounding him a little bit,” Wentz said. “But ultimately I think he was excited to come back. He won three (national titles) in a row and now he gets a chance at a fourth. Why not take that opportunity?”

     Vaadeland was third on the team in receptions with 20 and first in catches-to-touchdown ratio last season. Eight of the 20 went for six points. Offensive coordinator Tim Polasek said Vaadeland’s presence gives the offense a vertical threat from the tight end spot and at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he’s also developed his blocking to the point where he’s a viable dual threat.

     Polasek, who left NDSU to become an assistant at Northern Illinois last year before returning in January, said he’s seen a big improvement in Vaadeland’s toughness.

     “Maybe that wasn’t there two years ago,” Polasek said.

     Said Vaadeland: “I think he’s toughened up everybody he’s been around. Just the way he coaches; it’s crazy what he does.”

     The fact Polasek and fullback and tight ends coach Tyler Roehl returned to NDSU to be a part of Chris Klieman’s new coaching staff was also a factor in accepting the medical hardship, Vaadeland said. They’re familiar faces who know the system that Vaadeland has been a part of since he came to NDSU from Park Rapids in 2009.

     He missed the 2009 and 2010 seasons with knee injuries, although he probably would have redshirted his first year anyway. The ailments have been a thing of the past since he played in 13 games in the 2011 season.

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     Vaadeland caught five passes for 51 yards in 13 games in 2011 and followed by catching 18 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games in 2012. Last season, Vaadeland finished with 196 receiving yards in 15 games to raise his career totals to 43 catches for 442 yards and 10 TDs in 43 games.

     In his final season of collegiate football, Vaadeland has had another successful season in helping the Bison play for a national title for the fourth year in a row.

     The Bison entered the season rated No. 1 in the country and opened the season with victories over Iowa State (34-14 on Aug. 30), Weber State (24-7 on Sept. 6), Incornate Word (58-0 on Sept. 13), No. 3 Montana (22-10 on Sept. 20), Western Illinois (17-10 on Oct. 4), No. 12 Southern Illinois (38-10 on Sept. 11), No. 22 Indiana State (34-17 on Sept. 18), South Dakota (47-7 on Sept. 25) and No. 18 South Dakota State University (37-17 on Oct. 1).

     Vaadeland had four receptions for 48 yards against Iowa State, two catches for 20 yards against Weber State, three receptions for 26 yards against Incornate Word, five receptions for 39 yards and a TD against Montana (that 3-yard TD catch gave NDSU a 19-10 lead in the third quarter), two catches for 15 yards against Western Illinois, and two catches for 33 yards and a TD against SDSU (that 2-yard TD catch gave NDSU a 13-10 lead in the third quarter).

     NDSU saw its 33-game winning streak snapped with a 23-3 loss to No. 19 Northern Iowa on Nov. 8. Vaadeland had a 10-yard reception in that game as the Bison slipped to No. 4 in the nation.

     The Bison returned to their winning ways by marching back to the national title game with five straight wins.

     NDSU closed the regular season with a 45-10 win over Missouri State on Nov. 15 and a 38-14 win over No. 20 Youngstown State on Nov. 22 to tie for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 7-1 record. Vaadeland ended the regular season with 19 catches for 193 yards (including a long of 33 yards) and two TDs in 10 starts.

     The Bison received the No. 2 seed for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament and opened with home wins against No. 4 SDSU (27-24) on Dec. 6, No. 7 Coastal Carolina (39-32) on Dec. 13 and No. 19 Sam Houston State (35-3) on Dec. 19. Vaadeland had three catches for 27 yards against SDSU, a 20-yard TD catch for a 14-3 lead in the first quarter against Coastal Carolina and a 7-yard reception against Sam Houston State. Vaadeland ranks third on the team in receiving TDs (three), fourth in receptions (24) and fifth in receiving yards (247) entering the national championship game.

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     Vaadeland and the Bison are one win away from winning a fourth FCS national title. The Bison (14-1) will play No. 7 Illinois State (13-1) at Frisco, Texas on Jan. 10. That national championship game will be televised on ESPN 2 at noon. Illinois State shared the conference title with NDSU.

      NDSU defeated Sam Houston State 17-6 in 2011 and 39-13 in 2012 and Towson 35-7 in last season’s FCS championship game.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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