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Game Day notebook: Bison LB Kaczor 'feeling good, feeling fast' heading into Missouri Valley play

NDSU senior linebacker James Kaczor says he's feeling healthier this fall than he did last season.

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North Dakota State's James Kaczor shares a laugh with trainer Deegan Gearding before kickoff at Arizona Stadium in Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — North Dakota State senior linebacker James Kaczor wasn't himself on the football field for much of last season, dealing with a lower-body injury that he initially hurt during the spring 2021 season.

He played in nine of NDSU's 15 games last fall, but even in some of those games, his peak performance wasn't always there.

“I’m feeling good, feeling fast, feeling back to normal," said Kaczor, who also had a shoulder issue he addressed after last season. “It’s hard. Injuries are a part of football and last year was hard. I didn’t feel like myself most of the season, so I spent this offseason really trying to get healthy.”

The 6-foot, 215-pound Kaczor leads the Bison in tackles with 18 through three games this season. NDSU (2-1) plays at the University of South Dakota at 1 p.m. Saturday to open Missouri Valley Football Conference play.

“We’re playing hard, we’re playing 'Code Green' football," said Kaczor, who is from St. Cloud, Minn. “I’m excited about conference play.”

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North Dakota State's James Kaczor celebrates a tackle on Arizona's Michael Wiley at Arizona Stadium in Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

In his nine games last season, Kaczor had 36 tackles, including three for a loss, and dealt with the ups and downs of not being 100% healthy.

“It can be a hard situation when you’re not feeling 100% and the product you’re putting on the field isn’t your best," Kaczor said. “There’s low points as always, I’m a normal human being. I get overwhelmed, I get anxious, I get sad.”

Kaczor was recently named to the final roster for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which recognizes 22 college football players and an honorary head coach for outstanding contributions in their respective communities. The Good Works Team recognizes 11 players from FBS programs and 11 players from FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA programs for their leadership and contributions in the community.

“It’s a huge honor, something I’m not really expecting to get," Kaczor said. “I’ve been giving so many blessings in my life.”

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North Dakota State's James Kaczor tackles Arizona's Jacob Cowing at Arizona Stadium in Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Kaczor had a team-high nine tackles in a 31-28 loss at the University of Arizona last Saturday.

“You talk about a guy who is really starting to hit his own and play at a high level, but also doing it off the field, as well," Bison head coach Matt Entz said.

Kaczor is the most experienced linebacker for the Bison in a position group that lost veteran starters Jackson Hankey and Jasir Cox from last season.

“It’s super fun to be the veteran, experienced guy and be able to mentor the younger guys," Kaczor said.

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Kaczor added playing against a Power Five program like Arizona was a good measuring stick heading into conference play.

“It’s humbling. We don’t often see players like that with that kind of speed and athleticism," Kaczor said. "We’ve got to recognize, we’ve got to get a lot better.”

Reality check for young Bison players

With junior Eli Mostaert out for at least the next nine weeks with a broken bone in his leg, redshirt freshmen Jaxon Duttenhefer and Kody Huisman assumed more responsibility in the interior of the Bison defensive line. It came with mixed reviews from Entz. The head coach liked the effort.

"Are there things they need to improve on?" Entz said. "I think it was a reality check for them."

The reality check, he said, of constantly having to listen to Entz, defensive line coach Nick Goeser and defensive coordinator David Braun talk about playing with a certain pad level.

"Sometimes it takes getting punched in the mouth a little bit to realize that's not all coach's talk," Entz said. "That was real. Not that they played poorly, but there were just moments when they looked like freshmen out there. But at the same time, you have to think of what type of development this provided. Now they know what it takes to play at a high level and what's required of them every snap."

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North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz celebrates a missed field goal by Arizona at Arizona Stadium in Tucson on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

No time to rest after nonconference games

The schedule for both NDSU and USD is a little unusual this year in that both teams head right into conference play after three nonconference games. It's the first time for the Bison since 2010.

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The Bison bye week isn't until the weekend of Oct. 22, the eighth week of the season. NDSU normally likes its bye week between the nonconference and league seasons.

"Just because it gives you a chance to kind of reevaluate," Entz said. "But it's easier said than done with the way scheduling is in finding games. We don't necessarily always have that convenience."

In another scheduling oddity, it's the 10th time NDSU will open Valley play on the road in its 15 seasons in the league. The schedule has shuffled over the years, mainly with the addition of USD and the University of North Dakota.

The latest NDSU has had a bye week was in 2009 in week 10 and 2010 in week nine.

Etc, etc, etc

  • Former NDSU offensive lineman Cordell Volson, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, had the best grade by Pro Football Focus for a rookie offensive lineman last week.
  • USD quarterback Carson Camp, in his third year as a starter, passed for a career-high 355 yards last week in the 38-21 win over Cal Poly. He threw three touchdown passes and added a 75-yard TD run. He would have completed his first 18 passes if it weren't for one dropped pass.
  • Coyote leading tackler Stephen Hillis left the Poly game with an injury and is listed as a game-time decision.
  • The top running back for both teams didn't play much in last year's 52-24 NDSU win at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. NDSU's Hunter Luepke did not play at all because of an injury and USD's Travis Theis had one carry before leaving the game with an injury.
  • Southern Illinois' 31-24 win at Big Ten Conference Northwestern was the Valley's 48th win against an FBS school since 1985. A league member has beaten an FBS foe in 12 of the last 13 years, missing only the 2020-21 pandemic year when only one FBS game was played.
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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