FARGO — The North Dakota State football player who is from the closest town to Grand Forks, N.D., admits Park River is partial to the University of North Dakota. Which is fine with Jackson Hankey, who said NDSU is where he always wanted to play anyway.

It didn’t matter what anybody said, either, even if a few folks tried to steer him to the Fighting Hawks.

“There are a lot of UND fans up there and some people who tried to influence me either way,” Hankey said.

The sophomore middle linebacker will get his first home start on Saturday when the Bison host UND at 2:30 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. He walked on from Park River, located 55 miles northwest of Grand Forks, in 2017 after being a part of two North Dakota Class 1A state championship teams.

The plan was to learn the defense behind the likes of former Bison middle linebackers Nick DeLuca and Dan Marlette. Mission accomplished.

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Hankey led the Bison in tackles with eight in the 57-10 season-opening victory against Butler University (Ind.) last Saturday at Target Field in Minneapolis.

“I thought overall it went well,” Hankey said. “It was nice to get that first start out of the way. It would have been pretty easy to get a little star-struck but I’ve been here for a few years now, was prepared and that definitely helped. I thought I was able to keep my calm pretty well.”

Playing the non-scholarship Bulldogs from the FCS Pioneer League is one thing, taking on an in-state rival is another.

Well, used to be a rival anyway.

The fact that these teams have played only once since 2003 took some of the life off the matchup that was once fiercely contested. If Hankey were looking for a history lesson, he could ask his parents, David and Jana Hankey, who attended NDSU during the 1980s Division II battles, a decade that NDSU dominated in the series.

“They talk about it, but I don’t know a whole lot about it be honest,” Jackson said.

Not that it can’t be again. UND, which is playing an independent schedule this season consisting mostly of Big Sky Conference teams, will enter into the Missouri Valley Football Conference starting next year.

“It definitely takes the experience of playing each other multiple times,” Jackson Hankey said. “I don’t know that geography necessarily dictates what a rivalry is. It’s going to take a year or two of playing each other and being competitive to really make it a different game on the schedule.”

It appears Hankey is more concerned about the UND offense and who is going to be the quarterback than what anybody is saying off the field. Fighting Hawks starting quarterback Nate Ketteringham left the field last Saturday with an apparent knee injury. The backup is senior Andrew Zimmerman.

Both were effective in the 47-7 win over Drake. Ketteringham was 19 of 25 for 152 yards and Zimmerman 7 of 9 for 132 yards.

“We’re going to prepare the same either way,” Hankey said. “It’s not going to affect much of our game plan. If one guy was a freak athlete and the other a pocket passer, maybe it would. But they’re relatively similar players.”

Moreover, Hankey said, he expects UND to present more to its game plan than it did against non-scholarship Drake. It was the Hawks’ first game with new offensive coordinator Danny Freund, who was promoted after last season.

“They only have one game with their new offensive coordinator, it’s hard to think they truly showed a lot of their hand last week,” Hankey said, “so we need to be ready for a lot of different things. We need to be able to adjust and adapt.”