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Small in stature, Dragons receiver Ambrose makes big impact

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Minnesota State University Moorhead Dragons wide receiver Cory AmbroseDavid Samson / The Forum2 / 3
Cory Ambrose of Minnesota State University Moorhead runs into the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown during the Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, game at MSUM. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 3

MOORHEAD—Minnesota State Moorhead quarterback Jake Hodge was in the head coach's office earlier this week when he tossed a playful verbal jab at wide receiver Cory Ambrose.

Is the article going to be called, "Little Man on Campus?" Hodge asked with a laugh.

The 5-foot-6, 158-pound Ambrose smiled and kept walking.

"We give him a hard time on his size all the time," Dragons head coach Steve Laqua said.

Ambrose has given MSUM opponents a hard time with more than 2,100 receiving yards during his career. The fifth-year senior has 144 career receptions, ranking fourth on the program's all-time list.

The Dragons host Minnesota-Crookston at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, for homecoming at Scheels Field and Alex Nemzek Stadium in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play.

Ambrose, one of the fastest and quickest players on the team, has been a big-time playmaker for the Dragons since his freshman season. He's played in 36 games entering Saturday.

"He's got great hands, so he catches anything in the area," Laqua said. "He can catch a ball and get away from you before you know it."

While at Braham (Minn.) High School, Ambrose had his sights set on playing college baseball, with St. Cloud State at the top of his list. That sentiment started to change after Ambrose had a big senior football season for Braham.

Former Dragons men's basketball standout Tyler Vaughan, who graduated from Braham with Ambrose in 2012, helped Ambrose pursue college football opportunities. Vaughan made a football highlight tape for Ambrose that was sent to a few schools.

"He was one of the biggest reasons I sent my highlight tape here," Ambrose said.

Even though Ambrose weighed around 130 pounds in his final prep season, Laqua was intrigued and offered a partial scholarship.

"We weren't exactly sure what we were going to get," Laqua said. "We knew he was undersized and small, but could run really fast. We liked his highlight film. ... We saw a really fast guy who could make plays. We were trying to find all the hidden talent that we could."

Ambrose redshirted his first season with MSUM, and said he weighed about 135 pounds at the start of that fall camp.

"It was kind of a culture shock," Ambrose said. "Everybody was 6 inches taller than me, at least 50 pounds heavier than me."

But what Ambrose lacked in size and strength, he made up for with his elusiveness. In that first year in the program, Ambrose said he learned he was fast enough to avoid "getting hit really hard a lot." He made a big impression on the scout team during the 2012 season.

"He tore up the scout team. He gave us fits that year," Laqua said. "He made plays over and over and shook guys out of their cleats."

Ambrose had a breakout redshirt freshman season with 56 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns. In 2014, he added 40 catches for 486 yards and seven scores. As a junior, he had 27 receptions for 445 yards and six TDs.

This fall, he has 21 catches for 256 yards and five touchdowns. Ambrose has only missed two games during his career and has 24 touchdown catches.

"It's been cool to see him grow," said Dragons senior offensive lineman Jack Bixler. "I think of him being a fun guy to be around. He's someone that people naturally gravitate to."

The Dragons' win totals have improved during Ambrose's time in the program. MSUM had a 1-10 record the season he sat out as a redshirt. The Dragons followed that up with back-to-back 4-7 marks. MSUM posted a 6-5 record last season.

"It's been cool to see the program grow," Ambrose said.

Laqua said he's not sure if Ambrose said a word during his entire first year in the program. He's opened up since. Laqua said Ambrose always has a smile on his face, has a good sense of humor and works hard.

"I like to have fun with it and make it fun," Ambrose said. "I like to help other people enjoy it, too."

What: Minnesota-Crookston at Minnesota State Moorhead

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8

TV: WDAY'Z Xtra

Eric Peterson
Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.

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