Jake Kava bet on himself with Bison football, and he's being rewarded for it
Fargo Shanley graduate making plays in the same manner as other walk-ons in the program.
FARGO — The street that Jake Kava, Costner Ching, Cody Mauch and Mason Hofstedt live on could just as well take on another name: Walk-on Way. The North Dakota State football players have a non-scholarship beginning to their careers in common.
There are similar traits, like being from the Midwest. None are from particularly big cities. Kava, the Fargo Shanley graduate from Moorhead, is probably the exception and it’s a good thing the four don’t have a torn ACL in common with Kava, either.
But the junior defensive end returned this season and put a stamp on a valuable role he’s played this season with a quarterback sack in last week’s FCS second round playoff win over Southern Illinois.
“All I had to do was run around the corner untouched,” Kava said. “It was special, especially being a local kid was pretty special.”
It was one play in NDSU advancing to Saturday’s quarterfinal game against East Tennessee State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Bison head coach Matt Entz called the sack of SIU quarterback Nic Baker a “different level” play by Kava.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen Jake move like that, on the practice field or the game field,” he said. “There’s some explosiveness. That tells me he’s really feeling well and playing at a confident level. He’s been an unbelievable teammate and I’m sure he’s going to be rewarded in the future for it.”
He’s been rewarded for successfully coming back from an ACL tear, an injury that also tore some meniscus. It happened in practice in early September of 2020 on a punt coverage drill. Kava was running down the Dacotah Field turf, made a cut and his knee gave out.
“I was just trying to be athletic on punt coverage,” he said. “It happens, it’s part of the game. I’ve been fortunate enough to where that is the only injury I’ve had in my career so I feel pretty fortunate about that.”
Fortunate is how NDSU feels about its depth on the defensive line. The Bison play up to six defensive ends and that doesn’t include Spencer Waege, who had his season end because of an ACL injury in September.
Kava is fourth of that group in tackles with 12. More impressive, he has four tackles for lost yardage and three QB sacks.
Not bad for a local kid who heard the doubting whispers when he first committed to NDSU.
“Even your friends and family members are like, oh yeah, NDSU is a high level of football,” Kava said. “It comes back to betting on yourself. The No. 1 person who has to believe in yourself is yourself or else it’s not going to happen.”
Like most redshirts, his first year was spent paying his dues on the scout team as a linebacker. But at that position in particular it's historically been hard to crack the rotation at NDSU. There are more opportunities in the free-substituting defensive line.
He saw some backup time in 2019, with his one pass deflection at the line of scrimmage resulting in an interception by teammate Michael Tutsie.
“We all came in North Dakota kids and not the most athletic or biggest, strongest, fastest, but what (NDSU) does in the weight room is amazing,” Kava said. “Any way to get on the field and I figured we play a lot of defensive ends every game. It’s worked out.”
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Kava had to change his look physically in moving from linebacker to defensive end in the fall of 2019. Credit there goes to defensive ends coach Buddha Williams, who took a linebacker and taught him the ropes of the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a big part of what we’re doing,” Entz said of Kava. “For us to count on guys who come here as walk-ons and now they’re in the two deep, that doesn’t happen everywhere.”
It’s happening at the house on Walk-on Way.
“It’s been fun to have that family atmosphere in a house where we all have similar upbringings and took similar roads to get here,” Kava said.