FARGO — The first snaps as a center in the offensive line life of Jalen Sundell came before North Dakota State faced Central Arkansas last October. That experiment turned into a full-time job.
The Bison are hoping they found their guy to replace Karson Schoening when they host Youngstown State at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Sundell is not only stepping into Schoening’s shoes, but a line of standout centers during their Division I FCS title run like Tanner Volson, Austin Kuhnert, Jesse Hinz and Joe Lund.
“Center definitely takes a little bit of getting used to,” Sundell said. “The snap count. The snap, (identifying) the box and the actual assignment. There’s a lot going on mentally. I’d say some of the blocks at center are a little bit easier, but mentally it’s tougher.”
The 6-foot-5, 294-pound Sundell said he’s gotten help from teammate Zach Willis, currently out with an injury. Willis played center for most of his Bison career before being switched to guard.
Sundell was recruited as an offensive tackle out of Maryville, Mo., where he was the Missouri Class 3A Offensive Player of the Year. He redshirted in 2018 and had a primary role in the kicking unit in 2019.
Now he’ll be part of the first snap of 2021 by the Bison offense.
“It’s definitely a different feeling,” Sundell said. “I really don’t know how to explain it. You’re held to a higher standard even more than I was before and certainly that’s a different feeling. Just a sense of poise is key there. There’s a lot of mental stuff before the game that I have to be locked into and that will also be a key for me.”
NDSU will have three new starters on its offensive line from 2019 with the departures of Schoening, left tackle Dillon Radunz and right guard Zack Johnson. Senior Zach Kubas started at right guard against Central Arkansas.
Jacob added to captain’s list
NDSU’s captains for the season are senior offensive tackle Cordell Volson, senior quarterback Zeb Noland, junior linebacker Jackson Hankey, junior defensive end Logan McCormick, senior cornerback Josh Hayes and senior wide receiver Cole Jacob.
Jacob was added to the list a few days as a special teams captain after the initial five were announced.
“He’s a heck of a leader,” McCormick said. “He’s high energy, gets to know everybody on the team and I can’t speak enough about him. I was a little upset he wasn’t initially, but coach (Matt) Entz made that decision and the whole team made that decision. I think it will only enhance our team by increasing his leadership abilities.”
There’s more to that story this week.
With junior Phoenix Sproles still out with a knee injury, Jacob will get his first start at wide receiver. He had eight receptions for 84 yards in 2019, with his value being more of a blocking role.
“He’s been around, he’s done everything,” Entz said, referring to the multitude of receiver sets. “He’s on every special team, thus why it was an easy decision to make him another captain.”
That decision was met with enjoyment from Entz, who recruited Jacob out of high school at Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Twin Cities. Entz referenced the commitment Jacob has made to the program in his five years, mostly done without any fanfare.
“What he means more to the program is probably the most important thing,” Entz said. “He’s everything that’s good about Bison football. I’m looking for big things out of him, not only for leadership but productivity as well.”
Bison doing best to avoid positive tests
Entz said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday that NDSU has had one positive coronavirus test since around Halloween and will test 72 hours before the Youngstown State kickoff. Although Entz has done in-person media appearances at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, the players have been strictly Zoom in answering questions from the media.
“What we’ve talked about with our kids, the only thing we can control is us,” Entz said. “We can control our health and continue to make sure we’re doing everything we can to minimize the chance of multiple houses coming under contract tracing.”
NDSU had a surge of positive tests over the summer, but that was reduced to zero for the October game against Central Arkansas.
“Part of it was we had a collective understanding that we needed to be better,” McCormick said. “We had positive tests here and there throughout the summer and fall, and just realizing we need to wear masks no matter if you’re around one or two people in your house.”
Etc., etc., etc.
- Not only does NDSU have a 38-game winning streak, but the Bison have won 29 straight at home, a Missouri Valley record topping NDSU’s 26-game streak from 2012-15. It’s tied for the sixth longest in FCS history. The longest home unbeaten streak for NDSU came during the beginning stages of its tradition. The Bison went 36 games without a loss from 1964-71 that included a season-opening tie in 1970 against Eastern Michigan. The current streak started with the 2017 home opener against Mississippi Valley State.
- NDSU’s 56-17 win at Youngstown last year was the worst defeat in program history.