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After spurning six-figure NIL offers, Jackrabbits TE Kraft's payoff could be FCS title

SDSU tight end Tucker Kraft had NIL offers in the the six figures to play for Power Five programs prior to this season, his final for the Jackrabbits.

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South Dakota State players Michael Drotzman and Tucker Kraft ready for their team photo at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.
David Samson/ The Forum
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FRISCO, Texas — South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft prior to this season could have transferred to a Power Five football program and been handsomely compensated through name, image, likeness (NIL) now allowed by the NCAA.

Deals were in the six figures Kraft said Friday at Toyota Stadium.

“It was tough, the money and everything involved with the NIL aspect," Kraft said. “I chose to pretend that money wasn’t on the table. Would I want to go to that university? Would I want to have to start from scratch essentially again? My answer was, no.”

Kraft is set to play the final game of his college career at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8, when the Jackrabbits play North Dakota State for the NCAA Division I FCS championship. SDSU (13-1) has a chance to win the program's first national title, while NDSU is trying to win its 10th FCS championship.

The payoff for Kraft staying at SDSU could be a national championship before he pursues a career in the NFL. He's a highly regarded prospect for the next level. Kraft said the family aspect of the programs is why he chose SDSU and stayed despite NIL offers.

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"To turn down six figures NIL money to stay at South Dakota State, play his last year with his brothers, I think that makes a statement that not a lot of young men, not a lot of young people, make nowadays and so we're going to build on that moving forward in terms of loyalty," SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said.

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South Dakota State head football coach John Stiegelmeier addresses the media at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.
David Samson/ The Forum

Kraft said his NIL offers were a combination of cash among other items.

"Some of it was cash, but it was cars, houses and small things I put together like an electric bike or a grill," Kraft said. “I thought I took it more as a chance for personal growth to say no to things like that. One, I stayed in a program that’s been loyal to me this entire time. ... The cash would have been the smallest part.”

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Kraft is a dynamic playmaker in the Jackrabbits offense with his pass-catching and blocking ability. Kraft has 25 catches for 318 yards and three touchdowns, but missed six games earlier in the season due to an ankle injury he suffered in the season opener against Iowa.

“He’s probably one of the best blockers on our team, even though he is not a lineman," Jackrabbits quarterback Mark Gronowski said. "He adds a different type of aggression to the run game. He’s just such a special player in the pass game as well. ... If you get him the ball, he’s going to get you another 5, 15 yards.”

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Kraft didn't play the first time SDSU played NDSU in mid-October at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Jackrabbits rallied from a 14-point deficit for a 23-21 victory in the Dakota Marker trophy game.

“I just want to dominate the guy across from me," Kraft said. "That’s my biggest goal so far. They’ve (NDSU) got a lot of guys on defense who can play ball.”

Kraft had a big game in the FCS semifinals with four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown in the 39-18 victory against Montana State.

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“Everybody loves to see Tucker catching touchdowns and all this, but I love seeing Tucker blocking," SDSU All-American offensive lineman Mason McCormick said. "His effort and physicality definitely brings a little extra juice to everybody.”

Kraft and the Jackrabbits played for the FCS national title in May of 2021. Sam Houston scored a touchdown with less than 20 seconds remaining in fourth quarter for a 23-21 victory. Kraft didn't have a catch in that game and Gronowski was injured on the first drive of the game and never returned.

“Making the championship is a standard that we try to set in this program," Kraft said. “As far as a program is concerned, making it here isn’t the standard. We’ve got to win the thing.”

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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