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The 13; Saluting the 2021 Bison senior class

North Dakota State will have 13 players move on after this football season

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North Dakota State senior Christian Watson is introduced before kickoff against South Dakota at the Fargodome on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

FARGO - North Dakota State honored one of the most unique senior classes in school history last Saturday before its regular season finale with South Dakota.

This class has experienced nearly everything imaginable, from back to back unbeaten seasons and national championships, to a postponed season, to playing football in the spring, to winning another conference championship.

Since 2013, I have written a column describing the senior class as they wrap up their careers. You can find the 2019 story here . Apologies to the 2020 group, which again underscores what a crazy time it has been for this class.

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Austin Avery - Avery ended his playing career after the fall game of 2020 against Central Arkansas, as injuries continued to mount for the tight end. Avery transitioned to a student assistant coaching role, where many suspect he will find a role in that profession later in life.

Michael Buetow - Buetow arrived in Fargo in early 2020 after transferring from MSU Mankato. He provided some needed depth on the defensive line after the departure of Matt Biegler. Jeff Kolpack wrote about Buetow's road to Fargo . He finished with eight tackles during the spring season and has been a valuable depth player on the Bison defensive line in the fall.

Jake Reinholz - Reinholz arrived at NDSU in 2017 after a record setting soccer career at Shanley High School in Fargo. He had to wait his time as Cam Pedersen was finishing his record setting career in 2018, Reinholz was set to take the reigns in 2019. Then in the most bizarre circumstances, Reinholz scored on the first touchdown of the season at Target Field on a two point conversion. In the process, Reinholz got hurt, causing him to most nearly the entire season. He returned for the national title game, kicking four extra points. He developed into a consistent kicker over the last two seasons, making 18 of 25 field goals.

Mason Hofstedt - Hofstedt has persevered during his time in Fargo. Much like Reinholz, he was ready for a larger role in 2019 and then suffered an avulsion fracture in his leg , causing him to miss nearly the entire season. He rehabbed and returned to the field in the spring, but really was able to make a contribution this fall, providing some valuable depth in the linebacker room. The Hofstedt name will continue for the Bison, his younger brother Logan is a fullback on the roster.

Jackson Hankey - Hankey is the definition of toughness and what a linebacker at NDSU looks like. There were doubts about Hankey playing middle linebacker for the Bison, about a former Class B player and if he was athletic enough. Hankey, who won two state championships at Park River, changed that early on during his time on the field. He took over the starting role in 2019 and never looked back, leading the team in tackles all three years he started. He made his impression on the Bison, and became another North Dakota native that proved himself at the Division I level.

Cordell Volson - What a career for the Balfour, North Dakota native. Volson will go down in the record book as one of the top players in school history, he's played in 61 career games, joining a rare group of NDSU players that have reached that milestone. Balfour was a highly touted high school player, that Wyoming offered. He said no to the Cowboys and joined his older brother Tanner, who was a multiple-year starter at center. Volson became a starter in 2019 at right tackle, and then really showed his value by moving to multiple positions in the spring season. He's a two-time captain and will play in the East-West Shrine Game in Las Vegas in February.

Josh Babicz - When Babicz committed, he immediately joined an exclusive group of players from Barrington, Illinois to play at NDSU joining greats Sam Ojuri and Ben LeCompte. Babicz played in 2018, but didn't have a catch. That ended in a hurry in the 2019 season finale, catching two touchdowns at Target Field. He finished with five touchdown grabs, including an 88 yarder against Western Illinois. He'll hold the distinction of catching one of Trey Lance's final touchdown passes as a Bison in the game against Central Arkansas in October of 2020. Babicz has accepted an invite to the NFLPA Game in Los Angeles in January.

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Noah Gindorff - One of the highest recruited players to come to NDSU in the Division I era, who turned down a PJ Fleck offer to play for the Gophers just a couple days before Signing Day. Gindorff, much like Babicz did not have a catch in 2018, but broke out in a big way in 2019. His first five catches all went for touchdowns. He finished the year with six touchdowns, he had a monster reception in the 2020 FCS Championship Game. Gindorff added two touchdowns in the playoff win over Eastern Washington and has two touchdowns this year. He too will play in the NFLPA game in January.

Lane Tucker - Tucker is my favorite interview on the team. Always insightful and tells like it is. He came to Fargo after a great high school career in Wyoming and after three years, finally was able to find his way onto the field in the spring season. He started eight games and made Valley Honorable Mention. He's followed that up with a really solid 2021, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He told me two weeks ago he was "at 90 percent not coming back". He made that official last week and will be a loss to replace at defensive tackle.

Logan McCormick - Tucker's roommate, who experienced his first loss in a football game since the 8th grade when the Bison lost at South Dakota State in November of 2017. McCormick came to Fargo from the football factory of Kimberly, Wisconsin and played as a true freshman in 2017. When the four game redshirt rule came into effect in 2018, McCormick did that, playing in four games. He returned in 2019 as an experienced defensive end, racking up five sacks. He added three more in the spring season and this fall has been stellar as a captain, with another three sacks. Been a consistent defensive presence up front.

Costner Ching - One of my favorite stories of this group of seniors, who came to NDSU as a tight end, but was asked during spring ball of 2019 to move to defensive tackle . The impact was almost immediate for Ching. He played in all 16 games, finishing with 28 tackles. He became a starter in the spring season and has followed it up with another solid year in the fall. Ching does not get a lot of headlines, but has become a success story at a different position.

Brayden Thomas - A Bismarck native who came to Fargo after a great 2019 season at MSU Mankato. Thomas transferred to NDSU and was needed immediately after some departures on the defensive line for the spring season. Thomas got better as the season went along, including a big game at Northern Iowa. He has followed that up with a great 2021, he has seven sacks and was nominated for Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year. Bison fans were wondering who was going to be the "guy" on the defensive line after Derrek Tuszka moved on to the NFL. Thomas has helped fill that void.

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Christian Watson - An electric playmaker that former coach Chris Klieman said was going to be a "stud". Early on in Watson's career that wasn't much to talk about, as injuries kept him from the field. He was healthy in 2019 and everyone got to see how Watson proved Klieman right. Watson had a star turn in the playoffs, including back to back 70 plus yard touchdowns against Montana State in the 2019 semifinals. Watson showed his special teams ability in the spring, with two return touchdowns against Northern Iowa and Sam Houston. He has found the endzone eight times this year, including bombs of 85, 71 and 67 yards. He's hoping for another big postseason before the chances for him to become another Bison drafted into the NFL.

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