FARGO-The physical growth Blake Williams has undergone since coming to North Dakota State is obvious. He's a big guy, 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, who plays on the interior defensive line where you need to be big.
But that doesn't get you on the field at the Division I FCS level, especially for a program that is used to making a deep run in the playoffs. And considering the Bison are rotating at least five players at two spots, there's no room for falling behind in the football classroom.
That's where Williams has made his biggest strides.
"He just had to understand the system," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "You have to feel comfortable with all the stunts, all the games and all the pressures. You have to know what the defense is doing behind you."
You have to know the offensive sets. You have to be able to read an offensive line. You have to know a lot of things and the result was noticeable last weekend in the 40-13 win at Eastern Washington. Williams had two emphatic tackles at the line of scrimmage, was in on a quarterback sack and the Bison made life miserable on All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud, who finished 10-of-30 passing with two interceptions.
Now in his fourth year in the program, it wasn't until last year before Williams was part of game planning for an opponent.
"Last year I was just getting a feel for it," he said. "I was kind of swimming a lot of times because of all the adjustments that we had. It wasn't necessarily how we were doing it in fall camp or spring ball. Depending on what team it is, we can be doing something completely different than what's normal for us."
The mental preparation is a cumulative effort on the rotating linemen. Senior Nate Tanguay is the four-year starter and the leader, whom Williams said "is like having a second coach."
Tanguay and junior Aaron Steidl are the starters, with the positions officially listed as defensive tackle and noseguard. Williams and senior Grant Morgan are the primary backups with redshirt freshman Cole Karcz getting into the mix at Eastern Washington.
There was a time in his first couple of years when Williams wondered if he would even see the field before his senior year.
"I like how our room is really gelling together right now," Williams said of the defensive tackles. "Everybody is helping each other along."
About the only way they aren't helping Williams is with his choice of NFL teams. The graduate of Romeo High School in Washington, Mich., located just north of Detroit, is a Detroit Lions fan. NDSU's roster is stacked with players from Minnesota and Wisconsin and Williams is a rare NDSU recruit from the state of Michigan.
"It gets hard around all these Packers and Vikings fans, but I love it here," Williams said. "It was the greatest move I ever made."