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NDSU's football team closing in on full strength

FARGO – Carlton Littlejohn’s knee surgery took all of about 20 minutes in a short procedure last January. The rehabilitation, however, has been many, many times longer.

The North Dakota State standout linebacker is back working out, although the Bison coaches plan to limit him in practice, which starts next week. If NDSU had a game tomorrow, Littlejohn said there would be no doubt he would play.

“I’m doing pretty much everything the team is doing,” he said.

That goes for a whole host of players who missed most or all of spring football because of various ailments. The list was long and extensive:

Linebackers Littlejohn (knee), Pierre Gee-Tucker (knee) and Travis Beck (shoulder), safety Colten Heagle (shoulder), cornerbacks C.J. Smith (shoulder) and Jordan Champion (foot), tight end Lucas Albers (hip), running back King Frazier (knee), fullback Jedre Cyr (hernia), wide receivers Nate Moody (lower leg) and DeSean Warren (knee), defensive end Alex Hahn (ankle) and kicker Adam Keller (hip).

Everybody is full-go with the exception of Littlejohn, head coach Chris Klieman said. And considering he is going on his fourth year as a starter, that is not a concern.

“I think everybody knows that Carlton Littlejohn is a pretty doggone good football player and want to make sure he’s healthy and has his legs underneath him on August 30th,” Klieman said.

Aug. 30 is the opener at Iowa State. Barring injuries during fall camp, it would leave only defensive tackle Brian Schaetz as being questionable for the Cyclones. A broken bone in his foot sidelined him for a good chunk of this summer but now more concerning is a blood clot that is being addressed through medication.

It’s not a spot NDSU needs any more question marks, either. With the departure of four senior defensive tackles and a key freshman recruit who left the team, it was already a bold-face punctuation mark.

“We have a lot of young kids in there,” Klieman said. “They just have to keep growing and developing and that’s part of the reason we have the early schedule that we do. We have to get those guys a few more snaps before they get into conference play.”

Freshman Nate Tanguay earned a starting spot at either tackle or nose guard in spring football.

“I think Nate Tanguay will be so much better this fall than he was in the spring,” Klieman said. “Just him understanding how it works now and understanding the role he’s going to play.”

If Schaetz can’t go, that puts sophomore Austin Farnlof or redshirt freshman Grant Morgan in line for a starting interior spot with redshirt freshman Bryce Messner moving up the depth chart.

Senior defensive end Mike Hardie has also played in the middle, so that’s another option. Farnlof missed his redshirt freshman season last year rehabilitating an injured knee.

“He now knows his knee is going to be OK,” Klieman said. “He’ll be able to hold up because I think in the spring he was a little tentative.”

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.