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2 positions, 2 jersey numbers not too much for Bison lineman Grey Zabel

North Dakota State offensive guard learned new plays at more of a tight end position last week at Arizona

South Dakota's Blake Holden from Watertown, S.D., chats with North Dakota State's Grey Zabel from Pierre, S.D., at the Fargodome on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.<br/>
David Samson/Forum Communications Co.
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FARGO — Friends and family of Grey Zabel wearing the North Dakota State’s No. 74 jersey at the University of South Dakota football game Saturday may want to consider adding a couple more digits. Last week, Zabel also wore No. 98.

Zabel warmed up before the University of Arizona game last week wearing his customary No. 74, typical of an offensive lineman. But after warmups and before taking the field minutes before kickoff, he switched to 98.

“Luckily I had a friend like Brandon Westberg who helped me pull the pads off that were all sweaty,” said Zabel, referring to the Bison backup center. “So I appreciate him big time.”

Why the switch? The NDSU game plan called for 6-foot-4, 290-pound Zabel, the backup at left guard, to play more of a tight end/extra offensive lineman position and NCAA rules “strongly recommend” that offensive linemen wear numbers between 60 and 79.

NDSU’s No. 98 on the roster is Josh Magin, a true freshman defensive tackle who was not on the trip.


Zabel wasn’t sure of his other number until he arrived at Arizona Stadium and he had two sets of pads delegated to him. It started the previous Monday morning when NDSU offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl told Zabel he wanted him to stop by his office on Tuesday.

“I get up there and he hands me a sheet and it’s a mile long of all these plays,” Zabel said. “He just said start memorizing them. I’m like, all right, and throughout the week we worked on some of those personnels and come Saturday, we were able to play with it pretty well.”

NDSU threw a power game at Arizona that almost worked. The Wildcats held off the Bison in a 31-28 win. For NDSU, it’s back to work and it remains to be seen how much of a power look it will throw at USD in a 1 p.m. kickoff at the DakotaDome to open Missouri Valley Football Conference play.

North Dakota State offensive lineman/tight end Grey Zabel (98) helps clear a pile after a Bison offensive play on Saturday at the University of Arizona.
David Samson/The Forum

It’s a building that has fond memories for Zabel, who was a big part of three straight South Dakota high school state championships at T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre. The championship games are held in Vermillion.

“I’ve had a lot of really good experiences in that place,” Zabel said. “I had a lot of fun there and hope to continue that throughout college. Just the atmosphere, really awesome place to have the state championships there and I’m really excited to see how it is Saturday.”

Like a lot of South Dakota players on the Bison roster over the years, Zabel has taken his share of “razzing” from friends who are going to school at USD.

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T.F. Riggs was a power with Zabel in the lineup. As a senior, the Governors set a state record for most points in a season and outscored opponents by an average of 58-7.

“You don’t realize how awesome it is until you look back on it and realize, wow, those are the good old days,” Zabel said.


No word if Zabel got a list a mile long with more plays this week.

“Our offense is schemed to where if you know one position, you kind of know what everyone else is doing,” he said. “That’s the good thing about our offense and our leaders like (left tackle) Cody Mauch and (left guard) Nash Jensen help you along with the offense and teach you the offense as you go. They did an awesome job helping me and preparing me throughout the entire week.”

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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