VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Nick Radunz transferred to Valley City State prior to this season and the former North Dakota State offensive lineman got emotional after his first football practice with the Vikings.

“I had to hold back tears getting into my car after the first day of practice, just being able to come back and being able to play and have fun again and do what I love,” said Radunz, from Becker, Minn.

Radunz said playing this fall wasn’t always a certainty because he wanted to get healthy before resuming his college career. Not playing this fall was an option at one point.

“I was pretty banged up physically,” Radunz said. “I thought the best way to do that was transfer, take some time by myself and work with some physical therapists. I progressed a lot faster than I thought I was going to and I felt like I was ready to get back into it. … The original thought process was that I was going to take a year off.”

Former North Dakota State offensive lineman Nick Radunz, left, is starting at center for the Valley City State Vikings. Zachary Lucy Photography / VCSU Athletics
Former North Dakota State offensive lineman Nick Radunz, left, is starting at center for the Valley City State Vikings. Zachary Lucy Photography / VCSU Athletics

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The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Radunz plays center for VCSU, which is ranked No. 20 in the latest NAIA coaches’ poll. The Vikings (3-0, 1-0 NSAA) play at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at Iowa Wesleyan in North Star Athletic Association play.

Vikings head coach Dennis McCulloch said Radunz has been a perfect fit in the offensive line with VCSU having a need at center. Radunz long snaps for punts, too.

“He came Day 1 with a lot of confidence and understanding how football should be done and the practice effort that you need and focus that you need,” McCulloch said. “He came out Day 1 and set a high standard. We couldn’t have asked for more.”

Radunz said he injured his neck during practice during the spring season at NDSU. He wasn’t able to participate for the last couple months of the spring with the Bison. That injury and general wear and tear on his body are why Radunz thought taking this fall off could be the best option for his football career.

“I needed to get right,” Radunz said.

Valley City State offensive lineman Nick Radunz
Valley City State offensive lineman Nick Radunz

Radunz said he started to feel better in late July and the Vikings started fall camp in early August. Radunz started his career at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton before he transferred to NDSU. Radunz said having two former NDSCS teammates playing for Valley City State played a role in his decision to transfer to VCSU.

“I had connections here and it was right down the road,” Radunz said.

Radunz played one season at NDSU where his older brother, Dillon Radunz, was an All-American left tackle. Dillon is now with the Tennessee Titans, a second-round selection in the NFL Draft last spring.

Nick was hoping to get a full 2020 season with his brother last fall before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the Bison season, moving all Missouri Valley Football Conference games to the spring. NDSU played one football game in the fall of 2020 and that proved emotional for Nick as it was senior day for Dillon.

“It was a great experience to share with Dillon and I’m sure he would say the same thing,” Nick said. “When he was getting his name announced, I was so proud of him. I was holding back tears again.”

(NOTE: Video story below originally ran on WDAY and The Forum on December 13, 2019)

Nick said what made Dillon’s senior day more emotional was thinking about their father, Jeff Radunz, who died when Nick was 10 years old.

“I know our dad was looking down and smiling ear-to-ear,” Nick said.

Nick said he has a photo of his father that he keeps in his helmet for every practice and every game. He’s done that since his freshman year in high school.

“Throughout everything I do, I think of him,” Nick said. “He’s one of the main reasons why I play football and just knowing that this is what he would want me to do.”

Nick said the support of his family, including his mother Kathy, Dillon and sister Danielle along with his wife, Morgan, is part of the reason he was so emotional after his first practice at Valley City State.

“No matter what, they’re going to be there for me,” said Nick, who got married during the summer. “I’m having fun again. I’m doing what I love.”

Nick playing for NDSCS and NDSU helped him mature and made him into the player and person he is today. He said former Bison offensive line coach A.J. Blazek, who is now at Vanderbilt, also played a key role in his development.

“He was hard on everybody, but I learned so much from that man,” Nick said. “I attribute a lot of what I’ve learned and a lot of my success here to coach Blazek.”

McCulloch said Nick has brought a physical presence to the Vikings offensive line.

“He’s an athletic big kid. For his size, he moves very well and you also like his tenacity,” McCulloch said. “He’s pretty much the complete package for us on the offensive line.”