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Kolpack: Hunter Luepke from little Spencer, Wis., gets big-time national love in NDSU victory

When Mel Kiper Jr. takes notice, the NFL will also take notice of the NDSU running back

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North Dakota State's Hunter Luepke makes a catch against Youngstown State during their football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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The affirmation of Hunter Luepke’s football potential came at 2:12 p.m. on Saturday, when the following words came from a Mel Kiper Jr. tweet: “Hunter Luepke is going to be a good pro.”

Straight and to the point.

We’ve seen it for a couple of years now. Those who follow Division I FCS football saw it on the big stage last January in the national title game in Frisco, Texas. That’s all good and everything, but when somebody with the stature of Kiper Jr. takes the time to comment, the Luepke Train has left the station and headed for the NFL.

Enjoy him while you can, Bison fans.

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Certainly his teammates and coaches are after the Bison defeated Youngstown State 27-14 Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Luepke had 13 carries for 72 yards and caught two passes for another 34 yards.

It wasn’t a boatload of yards, but it was more about when he got them. The hard part for the Bison has to be how much do they use Luepke, who has scored a touchdown in eight straight games. This is not high school ball where a player can get the ball half the time; college football is too physical and too hard on the body.

Head coach Matt Entz has referenced his playmakers to baseball pitchers having a pitch count. It wouldn’t be wise to throw Luepke all nine innings every night out.

“I think some of that is determined on Monday,” Entz said. “He comes back and see how he feels, see how he’s doing and we have a room full of talented running backs. We need to do what we need to do to win.”

Luepke can run. He can break tackles. He can block. He gets yards after contact. Against Youngstown, he made the best catch in NDSU’s five games with a smooth over-the-shoulder grab at the Penguin 2-yard line.

That play was tweeted by Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, who said “Normal fullbacks can’t do this. @NDSU football FB Hunter Luepke is far from normal.”

Note to pro prospects: when Jim Nagy starts talking about you, that’s also a good sign.

“It’s freakish, that’s the best word for it,” said NDSU safety Michael Tutsie. “It’s not a secret, we all see it, our guy is something special. He’s extremely fun to watch and I’m just glad he’s on our team.”

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If nothing else, that play was all a guy like Kiper Jr. needed on a Saturday to judge the ability of a fullback. Don’t discount quarterback Cam Miller putting the ball exactly where it needed to be with a Youngstown defensive back closing in.

“He threw a wonderful ball and I’m just trying to make plays,” Luepke said.

Luepke scored on the next play and the Bison led 7-0. Two plays, two totally different ways to handle the ball. Kiper Jr. is right.

“Great football player,” said Youngstown head coach Doug Phillips, noting that not many teams have a 236-pound tailback. “I love our tailbacks but they’re 188 or 195. You put a 236-pound tailback in and you get a little seem and they start puncturing our gap responsibility. He can catch, he can block and he can run the football so to me I think he’s a dynamic, great football player.”

That combination is unmatched in the FCS. NDSU had two fourth-and-1 situations and went to Luepke on both. The first, at the YSU 12-yard line, resulted in a 12-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead.

The second came on the first series of the third quarter and put the Bison in scoring position. A sack of Miller stalled that march, a ball Miller said he should have thrown away.

Here’s the take on the Bison offensive playmaking ability after five games: After Luepke, NDSU’s next-man-up is still a process. Tight end Joe Stoffel had a good day in replacing the injured Noah Gindorff with four receptions for 52 yards.

Running back Kobe Johnson got loose on a couple of runs. But no touchdowns in the second half isn’t going to push the dynamic meter.

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“I definitely wasn’t satisfied scoring six points in the second half,” Miller said. “I thought we were moving the ball pretty well. Situational football is something we need to work on and scoring touchdowns in the red zone. We couldn’t get that big play to get us down there and that’s stuff we’ll clean up next week and get better.”

The bottom line is NDSU will take a 4-1 overall record, a 2-0 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and the No. 1 ranking to Indiana State next week.

And they have the No. 1 scoring threat in the FCS. Luepke said afterward he worked hard on his pass catching skills in the offseason, using the likes of a “jugs” machine that throws footballs at high speed. He worked a lot with the Bison quarterbacks catching passes.

“Just to try to add to my game,” Luepke said.

He can add a tweet from an NFL guru on Saturday. That’s going to be a lasting memory.

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
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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