FARGO — North Dakota State safeties James Hendricks and Michael Tutsie were both asked what it would be like if their fathers were locked in a team room for a weekend. The answers were the football version of an all-expense paid trip to the Caribbean in January.
Troy Hendricks is the head football coach at Bemidji High School (Minn.). Steve Tutsie is the cornerbacks coach for Marian University in Indianapolis, Ind.
The interesting dynamic is Steve has long been a defensive guy. Troy, an NAIA All-American running back at Minnesota State Moorhead, has long been an offensive guy.
“They would talk each other’s ear off about football,” James said. “Michael’s dad is hilarious. He could talk for days; he has a lot of stories and a lot of connections so I think they would hit it off really well.”
Said Michael: “That would be awesome, they would have a lot to talk about. I don’t think you would be able to get them out of there without dragging them because there would be a lot of football to be talked about for sure.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that the two starting safeties for NDSU are the sons of coaches. It’s a position that requires a lot of knowledge of the game, details that most fans at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome on Saturdays would have no idea.
The two will work in tandem again at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday when Western Illinois comes to town.
NDSU will take its 9-0 record and No. 1 ranking to the turf, a distinction that has come about in part by a defense that has been one of the tops in the FCS. For starters, the Bison have rarely given up a big play this season and a big reason is the back end of the defense with Hendricks at free safety and Tutsie at strong safety.
“Two coach’s kids playing next to each other, that’s really neat,” Steve said. ”I do think they see the game a little differently because of being coach’s kids and the exposure that you go through. Michael was on the sideline for three state championship games, he’s heard a lot of football talk.”
The longest scoring play against NDSU was a 44-yard pass from University of Delaware backup quarterback Nolan Henderson to Chichi Amachi with six minutes left in the game. The Bison were playing mostly with backups. Perhaps the longest scoring play against NDSU starters was last week at Youngstown State when Penguins backup quarterback Joe Craycraft hit receiver Miles Joiner for a 23-yard touchdown late in the second half. It cut NDSU’s lead to 35-7.
That kind of season-long, heads-up defensive play is something Troy has seen with his son as long as both can remember.
“He monitored everything we talked about and he even took it a step further,” Troy said.
A step further translates to watching the website Hudl.com, which includes player and team highlights.
“When he got home, instead of watching TV or doing homework, he was on Hudl evaluating himself and the opponents,” Troy said. “He’s passionate about the game of football and it’s something he’s always tried to be better at.”
As the head coach at Bemidji High School, Troy is able to make most of NDSU’s games since high school games are usually Friday night. He had to miss one this year.
There’s nothing Troy enjoys more than watching James and Michael work side by side. It’s easy for him to tell they are the sons of coaches.
“You don’t see a lot of mistakes being made on Saturday with the Bison,” Troy said.
Troy likes how his son can read a defense so quickly. He likes how Michael reacts and gets in the right spot so quickly.
The two are the definition of players with a high football IQ.
“They understand where everybody is all the time,” Troy said. “Defensively, you have to know everybody’s assignment and you have to know the quarterback of the offense. Not only do you need to know the first read, the second read and the third read but you need to know the blocking schemes. If somebody is not lined up correctly, it’s your responsibility.”
Steve Tutsie says he’s impressed how well NDSU disguises its coverages before the snap of the ball. It’s something he and Michael talk about via phone whenever they can during the week. They quiz each other all the time on looks and fits.
The success of the Tutsies this season has been remarkable. NDSU is working on a 30-game winning streak. Marian is 7-0, ranked second in the NAIA top 25 poll and has high hopes of making a strong postseason run.
“Everybody loves to win and to see what he’s doing with his team is great to see,” Michael said.
There actually have been a few times when Steve Tutsie and Troy Hendricks have been able to talk football, like after last year’s spring game.
“Very intelligent man and obviously his boy is extremely smart,” Troy said.
When it comes to the Bison safeties, there’s plenty of smarts. It’s just the way it’s always been.