IRVINE, Calif. — While former North Dakota State offensive tackle Dillon Radunz has been training in California this January, his mind wandered to Texas earlier this month.
In a non-pandemic world, the NCAA Division I FCS title game was scheduled for Jan. 9 in Frisco, Texas, a trip Radunz made multiple times during his Bison career. That game was postponed to the spring due to COVID-19.
“All the memories popped up,” said Radunz, who was on the past three NDSU national title teams. “I was texting my mom, texting our friends, texting my old teammates, the guys that are still there, ‘We should be in Frisco right now, we should be playing.’ Definitely reminiscing, missing it a lot. I definitely wish that was the case.”
Instead, Radunz’s senior season consisted of one game, which was played Oct. 3 against Central Arkansas at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. A week later, he was headed to San Diego to start training for the NFL Draft.
“This is just the way things went,” said Radunz, who is being represented by California-based Rep1 Sports agency. “I’m excited for the next stage.”
Radunz is headed to Mobile, Ala., early next week to start practice for the Senior Bowl, which is scheduled for Jan. 30 at Whitney Stadium. The annual college all-star game that features some of the top draft prospects is slated to be televised at 1:30 p.m. on the NFL Network.
“I’m a competitor so I couldn’t imagine going any longer without playing,” Radunz said. “I’m excited to see what I can do, put my body to the test because I love testing myself. … Performing at the next level is something I’ve always wanted to see if I can do it, so the Senior Bowl gives me that opportunity.”
The 6-foot-6, 298-pound Radunz started his post-NDSU training in San Diego with instruction from former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley, a six-time Pro Bowler during his 13-season career. Former Northern Iowa offensive lineman Spencer Brown, also headed to the Senior Bowl, has been training with Radunz in California.
Radunz is thankful to be able to work with someone like Staley as he prepares for a potential NFL career.
“It’s a big confidence booster and it’s comforting … just being able to pick his brain and learn a lot about NFL play,” Radunz said “It’s a lot of one-on-one stuff here so we’re kind of isolated so it kind of works with the COVID thing. We’re not really too affected by it because there’s not a lot of people around us.”
The past few weeks, Radunz has been in Irvine, where Rep1 is based, to start more NFL Combine-style training, working on his 40-yard time and bench press.
“You’re ultimately always trying to get better at your game, you’re always trying to improve. That’s the same,” Radunz said. “The Combine training is different. I’m training for a 40. I haven’t trained for a 40 ever. You kind of run it in college just to run it.”
This year’s NFL Combine is going to be altered due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The event, which is usually held in Indianapolis, will be conducted “in a different format” with no in-person workouts, according to a league memo that was obtained by multiple media outlets earlier this week.
“Instead, workouts will take place on the individual pro day on college campuses,” part of the memo read.
“I’m a competitor so I couldn’t imagine going any longer without playing. I’m excited to see what I can do, put my body to the test because I love testing myself. … Performing at the next level is something I’ve always wanted to see if I can do it, so the Senior Bowl gives me that opportunity.”
— Dillon Radunz
Radunz said he plans to participate in NDSU’s annual pro day, which is usually held in late March. The changed format to the Combine makes the Senior Bowl and pro day even more important for players like Radunz., who are trying to improve their draft stock.
"The best opportunity to showcase in front of teams will be at the Senior Bowl," said Nima Zarrabi, who is part of the Rep1 agency that represents Radunz.
While he knows the Senior Bowl is an important part of his path to the NFL Draft, Radunz isn’t going to let the moment overwhelm him.
“I want to go out and compete so I’m going to compete my heart out,” Radunz said. "I'm going to perform as best as I can. I’m not too worried about putting the pressure on myself.”
Dane Brugler, a national NFL writer and draft analyst for The Athletic, said Radunz could establish himself as a top-100 prospect with a strong Senior Bowl week.
"With Radunz, scouts want to see his body first and foremost, make sure he's in football shape," Brugler said. "And during Senior Bowl practices, the 1-on-1s will be critical. He is a strong run blocker, but there are some issues in pass protection, which is why he isn't a top-100 lock. A good week in Mobile could change that, seeing him versus the best senior pass rushers will be a key evaluation."
Radunz said he’s reached out to former NDSU teammates like quarterback Easton Stick and defensive end Derrek Tuszka on how they handled the pre-draft process. Stick, also a Rep1 client, is now with the Los Angeles Chargers and Tuszka with the Denver Broncos.
Two former NDSU offensive lineman, who have been key contributors for their teams, are set to play in the NFC Championship game next weekend. Billy Turner is a starter for the Green Bay Packers, while Joe Haeg plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I honed in on Billy a little bit,” Radunz said. “He might have not got on his feet right away in the league and now he’s looking to be in a great position.”
Radunz said the success that NDSU has had in getting offensive linemen into the NFL gives him the confidence that he can also make that jump.
“That's one of the reasons I went to NDSU,” Radunz said. “I have the template to do it. I’ve just got to put in the work to do it.”
(NOTE: Dillon Radunz interview starts at 39:45)