FARGO - Healthy knees and the middle linebacker position went through some tough times for the North Dakota State football team last season. Neither Nick DeLuca or Dan Marlette escaped unscathed.
DeLuca hurt his knee in practice the week of the Eastern Washington game, which was NDSU's second of the season. After undergoing a medical procedure, he returned for the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener against Missouri State three weeks later, but it took a lot longer than that for him to return to full speed.
Marlette would just as soon forget that game against the Bears altogether. He tore his ACL on kickoff coverage and was lost for the season.
"Part of football is injuries and unfortunately it happened to me," he said. "It was on special teams, which I take a lot of pride in. I'm just going to take it as a learning experience."
At that point, Marlette was playing at an all-conference level. He had five tackles and a forced fumble in the 40-13 win at Eastern. He had another forced fumble in the 56-0 blowout over Robert Morris University (Pa.).
Then came the injury and in essence, NDSU never had its full arsenal of the men in the middle all season.
The 6-foot-1, 226-pound Marlette hopes that changes.
"Lot of rough times," he said. "It was unfortunate for Nick with those first couple of games but I think it was huge in my growth as a (middle) linebacker. I got a lot of good and meaningful reps and a lot of knowledge came out of that."
It was actually Marlette's second run-through in seeing some time at middle linebacker. He began learning that spot in 2016 when DeLuca suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Matt Plank became the starting middle linebacker, but Marlette was in enough to appear in all 14 games.
Now's he's the guy in the middle, and will be flanked by Jabril Cox and Levi Jordheim on the outside.
Now a senior, he's hoping his best season is his last.
"You see things in a different light when you're injured," said Marlette, also noting that defensive end Greg Menard, offensive tackle Dillon Radunz and running back Demaris Purifoy went through similar injury struggles. "You could ask them. You just take things more seriously."
Even the dog days of fall practice in August don't seem so bad, he said.
"No, because it's a different role for me right now," Marlette said. "As a starter, it's more meaningful to me. As a senior, it's way more meaningful to me. Every practice I try my hardest and that means a lot to me."
Marlette will wear a knee brace this season, something he said he's gotten used to over the course of the last few months. DeLuca, by the way, is hoping to make his first NFL season also one to remember.
He was released by the Tennessee Titans last week, but was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars this week. The Jaguars' defensive coordinator is former Bison player and assistant coach Todd Wash.
"We're probably on the same page," Marlette said.