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Bison LB Wisniewski learned how to lean on others in his recovery from injury

It's still not certain when Cole Wisniewski will play, but he appears close

NCAA Football: FCS Championship-North Dakota State vs Montana State
Montana State Bobcats running back Isaiah Ifanse (22) is tackled by North Dakota State Bison linebacker Cole Wisniewski (31) during the 2021 FCS Championship at Toyota Stadium.
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports
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FARGO — Who was D.B. Cooper? Did Frank Morris escape safely from Alcatraz? Now add another mystery to the equation: Will Cole Wisniewski play on Saturday?

OK, the third one may not be of historical consequence but it’s a question North Dakota State fans are probably wondering with Illinois State coming to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome on Saturday. Even Wisniewski, earlier this week, didn’t know. Or at least he said he didn’t know.

“You’ll definitely see me,” he said with a smile. “You’ll see me in some capacity but I don’t know what it’s going to look like, though.”

OK, in a Bison football uniform?

“I’m not sure, we’re definitely going to have to see,” he said.

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Wisniewski returned to practice last week, but in a limited no-contact capacity. He’s been out since suffering a torn Achilles in winter workouts last year and his return date has been set back longer than the Bison coaches have hoped.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior is one of NDSU’s most talented linebackers and his return was expected to soften the blow created by the graduation of Jackson Hankey in the middle and the departure of outside linebacker Jasir Cox to the transfer portal, and ultimately West Virginia.

The injury sidetracked that.

“I really came into the rehab process with no expectations,” Wisniewski said. “If I set my expectations too high I would be letting myself down, just frustrated. If I set it too low, I wouldn’t let myself get back to what I wanted to so that’s how it’s been throughout. Not let myself get too high and not let myself get too low and truly take it day by day.”

He’s still been closely involved with the team during practice. He watched the same amount of film and took notes every week like he was going to play. He went to special teams meetings that began at 7 a.m.

Being on the sideline, he asked more questions of teammates than he ever has, like quizzing defensive linemen on how to be a better pass rusher or asking receivers what they don’t like from defensive backs when it’s a one-on-one situation.

“The process to play hasn’t changed,” Wisniewski said. “I’m taking maybe eight pages of notes even if I’m not going to play just so I know what the team is doing, know what to expect and help out my teammates.”

Wisniewski saw his contributions to the Bison lineup increase as last season wore on. Despite starting just two games, he would have been the second leading returning tackler behind Michael Tutsie had he started the season on time.

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He said the decision whether to play or not against Illinois State will be up to the coaches and not him. And head coach Matt Entz will say that decision is up to the medical staff.

When he does return, Wisniewski said he’ll reflect on an important lesson he learned during the recovery process: the good fortune to be able to lean on others like his teammates.

“Coming through this process, it’s not one you can do on your own,” he said. “It’s looking to others for help, whether it was a ride to the hospital when I couldn’t drive, a ride to practice or helping my rehab stuff.”

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Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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