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Bison 2022 position preview: Linebacker

NDSU will have two new starters at a critical spot in 2022

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North Dakota State linebacker James Kaczor sacks North Dakota quarterback Tommy Schuster during their football game Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Grand Forks. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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The 2022 North Dakota State football season is quickly approaching and offseason coverage is heating up at the Bison Media Zone.

Thru the summer months, we will look at each position on the Bison football team and examine the depth chart at those positions, ranging from current players on the team to incoming players that could play.

Part five of our preview series focuses on linebacker, in my opinion, the most critical part of the Tampa-2 defense that has seen so much success for NDSU over the last 12 years.

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The Bison are in a transition phase at the linebacker position heading into 2022. They knew Jackson Hankey was moving on after the win over Montana State, but the departure of Jasir Cox in February to West Virginia via the transfer portal means James Kaczor is the lone returning starter.

That doesn't mean the cupboard is bare at that position. There is plenty of talent at linebacker, but most of it is unproven.

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JAMES KACZOR - SENIOR

Speaking of Kaczor, the lone returning starter, he's hoping for a big bounce back season. Opting to use his extra COVID year, the former safety turned linebacker had a great spring campaign, but got hurt late against South Dakota State and was never the same.

Kaczor played just 9 of 15 games in the fall, finishing with 36 tackles and one sack, which was a big one against North Dakota. His experience will be needed with two new starters next to him this fall, but the biggest key for Kaczor is just stay on the field.

COLE WISNIEWSKI - JUNIOR

Wisniewski quickly established himself as one of the best players on the Bison defense in Kaczor's absence. Wisniewski played in all 15 games, making two starts. His penchant for making big tackles surfaced against Northern Iowa and continued all season long.

He finished with 53 tackles, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups. The sky is the limit for the Sparta, Wisconsin native, but first he needs to get back on the field.

Wisniewski injured his Achilles tendon during winter conditioning drills and has been sidelined since late February/early March. He missed all of spring football and likely won't be available until the season begins. He's a key piece of the Bison defense for not just this season, but beyond.

NICK KUBITZ - JUNIOR

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This player had the biggest jump during spring ball. I consistently heard Kubitz's name come up as one of the top players of the spring. He got most of the reps at middle linebacker as he and Luke Weerts are battling it out for the starting spot.

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North Dakota State’s Nick Kubitz tackles South Dakota’s Wesley Eliodor as he holds the ball during their football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at the Fargodome. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

Kubitz turned into a special teams dynamo in 2021, making 15 of his 29 tackles on kickoff coverage. The big challenge going forward is can Kubitz call a defense?

He's certainly big enough at 6-2, 225 pounds to take over in the role that Hankey had. Experience is just the biggest factor. The first two games of the season against Drake and North Carolina A&T will be huge for Kubitz to figure that role out.

LUKE WEERTS - REDSHIRT JUNIOR

Weerts seemed to be in line for the middle linebacker position going back to 2019, when he played as a true freshman in 12 games.

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North Dakota State's Luke Weerts celebrates his tackle on Missouri State's Cairo Payne on Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Springfield, Mo.
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.

2021 was a lost year though, as Weerts played in just three games before suffering a serious back injury and ended his year. He took a redshirt and combined with the COVID year, Weerts has three years of eligibility remaining.

He did practice in the spring, but had the white jersey on, for no contact. He and Kubitz will battle it our for that 'mic' linebacker role and Bison fans could finally see a rotation of players there, something we haven't seen in the Division I era.

This fall is extra special to Weerts, his younger brother Matt is a linebacker at Arizona, who the Bison are scheduled to match up against on September 17th.

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OSCAR BENSON - SOPHOMORE

A young man with a ton of talent, who has big things expected of him in 2022. Benson was a state champion at Hillsboro-Central Valley and got to flash some of that athleticism in sparse time last fall.

He finished with 12 tackles and a pass breakup last year and had a solid spring, getting plenty of reps during the 13 practices that NDSU held.

Linebackers coach Grant Olson loves Benson's potential and you will see him play quite a bit this coming year. Again, much like Kubitz, the non-conference home games could be a huge proving ground for Benson to potentially having a larger role on defense.

LOGAN KOPP - REDSHIRT FRESHMAN

Next to Benson, the other young linebacker that the Bison coaches can't stop raving about is the Missouri native Kopp.

Olson told me in April: "He's going to be one of the good ones to play the position at NDSU." Kopp was an all-state player in Missouri, and didn't miss a beat during his freshman season last year. Kopp went on the road trips last season, nearly playing in more than just the one game that he did.

Kopp stands 6-1, 220 pounds and I expect will get plenty of attention and reps during fall camp. Keep an eye on this young guy, he's going to play a lot I believe in 2022.

JULIAN WLODARCZYK - SENIOR

All Wlodarczyk has done since he arrived in Fargo in 2019 is play. He played as a true freshman on special teams and has continued to excel in that role, making 12 tackles there in 2021.

Wlodarczyk is a candidate to move into Jasir Cox's old role and his size is ideal; 6-3, 207 pounds. He got reps at linebacker during the spring, and because of his experience and his quickness, fans could potentially see the Illinois native playing linebacker this upcoming season.

IN THE PIPELINE: There are some really intriguing young players at this position. The top one is Fargo South grad Enock Sibomana, who made the transition to linebacker during the spring. I don't expect Enock to play a lot during the fall, but keep an eye on him going forward.

There are two true freshmen that just arrived on campus that bear watching to potentially play in four games this year. Moorhead's Austin Altepter and Brainerd's Nate Staehling. Each were tremendous high school players that the coaching staff targeted early as impact players.

ANALYSIS: This is a really interesting position to watch during fall camp that will have our attention. If I were to predict the opening day lineup, I would go with Wlodarczyk on the outside, Kubitz in the middle and Kaczor on the other side, with plenty of Benson and Kopp mixed in.

Dom Izzo is the Sports Director at WDAY-TV. He began working for WDAY in 2006 as the weekend sports anchor and was promoted to Sports Director in 2010.
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