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When it comes to injuries, honesty is the best policy for Bison football players

Although playoffs tend to take a different tone in getting on the field.

North Dakota State fullback Hunter Luepke is expected to return to action Saturday, Dec. 4, when the Bison host Southern Illinois in the second round of the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — It happens all the time during the season, a North Dakota State football player goes through warmups only to be put on the shelf for that game because of a not-yet-healed injury. It may be the next game, too, or two more games.

It also goes against the macho nature of football; admitting a nagging ailment is keeping him on the sideline.

What? You can’t play through that?

Are you hurt? Or are you injured?

The answer is usually the opposite. Trying to play through pain may get a player in more trouble than simply playing. It’s not the way of doing business.


“It’s definitely on all of us,” said Bison senior defensive end Brayden Thomas. “You have to be truthful with the doctors and the training staff. All you’re going to do is re-hurt it if you don’t. I mean, sometimes you want to tough it out, take a couple extra Advil and just roll, but that’s not always the right answer so you have to keep a level head with some of that stuff.”

Thomas missed two games earlier this season with an elbow injury. He said he could have returned earlier, but instead heeded the advice of the NDSU training staff.

Same with fullback Hunter Luepke, who is expected to be back on Saturday when the Bison host Southern Illinois in a second round Division I FCS playoff game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Luepke was taken out of the Youngstown game three weeks ago after aggravating a hamstring in the first series, which ended with his 49-yard touchdown run.

He did not play in the regular-season finale against South Dakota and the Bison had a first-round bye, which further bought him time to heal up.

“I was a little upset when I wasn’t going to be playing but there’s not much I can do about it,” Luepke said. “You have to play for your team, as well, you just can’t be playing for yourself. You always have to put the team first.”

The yardstick changes in the playoffs, however. There’s no such thing as a double elimination format in FCS tournament football.

“It’s win or go home so you put everything you’ve got out there,” Thomas said. “If you have a little ding, you have a little bruise, so be it. You have to play football and you have to win, so that’s how it goes.”

Nothing to that regard has really changed over the years. Players warmed up for regular season games in the 1980s and didn’t play just like they do now. Scott Woken, NDSU’s senior associate athletic director who began as the head NDSU trainer in 1989, thinks there’s a better awareness by today’s players on the long term effects of injuries.


“And I mean like 10, 20 years down the road,” Woken said. “It’s probably because of the way knowledge of medicine and sports injuries has progressed.”

It still doesn’t make it any easier to admit that an injury will keep a player out of the lineup.

“No question,” Woken said. “Absolutely because of how competitive we are around here. Winning is the way around here and they don’t want to miss a part of that and they don’t want to miss their role in that. This sounds funny but they don’t want to work their way back, they want to be back.”

It took center Jalen Sundell a few games to get his starting job back. He suffered a knee injury that kept him out of three games in October. It’s a balancing act, Sundell said, in getting on the field as soon as possible vs. making sure he’s healthy at this time of the season.

“You have to be honest, one, with yourself and, two, with the training and medical staff,” he said. “It definitely goes against what you want to do.”

Sundell said he could have returned earlier in October if he had to. Or, in other words, if it was a playoff game.

“Sometimes these guys and gals are so skilled that at 80% or 90% is still better than an opponent or others,” Woken said. “Even with us, it’s the thing: Is it hurt or is it injured? Seems cruel but when you’re injured, you probably can’t play. If you’re hurt, you probably can play. There’s a big difference there.”

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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