Bison receiver Vraa expects to return for FCS title game
Frisco, Texas - Ready or not, Zach Vraa is going to give it a go Saturday when North Dakota State plays in the NCAA Division I FCS national title game.
The team’s leading receiver ran some pass routes Thursday for the first time since injuring his hamstring in the second-round playoff win over South Dakota State in early December. He expects to be in the lineup when the Bison take on Illinois State on Saturday at Toyota Stadium.
To help speed his recovery, Vraa turned to an old friend and teammate for help: former Bison receiver Ryan Smith.
Smith, who just finished his rookie season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, from time to time battled hamstring issues during his Bison career.
“He told me what type of rehab is best to do, how it feels if you should push it more or not push it as much,” Vraa said, “so he was a big help.”
At one time, it was looking like NDSU would be without two of its top receivers when Carey Woods was carted off the field in the semifinal win against Sam Houston State. Woods was taken to a local hospital with a neck injury, but tests came back negative and he missed just a couple of days of practice.
“It was definitely scary at first because right away I thought something was wrong,” Woods said. “But after awhile, I started feeling good. I took a deep breath and said I’m fine. I’m glad everything came out negative.”
Vraa will be playing in his fourth national title game. He has the option of using a medical hardship for another year of eligibility, but is holding to his pledge of not making a decision until sometime after the season.
He said the hamstring injury could play a part in his decision if he isn’t able to train properly in the offseason. “And if I don’t play well during the game, that could be part of my decision as well,” he said.
Vraa has played in 13 of NDSU’s 15 games this season and has 39 receptions for 580 yards and four touchdowns. It’s down from his standout junior season of 67 catches and 15 touchdowns.
“I’m going to give it a shot no matter what,” he said. “Regardless if I come back or not, it’s the championship game. It’s hard to say how healthy I’m going to be, but I think it feels pretty good.”
Vraa has kept in shape over the past couple of weeks using a stationary bike. He was riding one before NDSU’s practice on Thursday morning to get loose.
He said he did not go “all out” during practice, saying he didn’t want to push it too much.
“I wanted to run around as much as I could and still be smart about it,” Vraa said. “It’s hard to say if I’m going to be 110 percent, but I think no matter what I’m going to step on the field and do what I can.”
If he can’t go, Woods said he’ll be there to pick up the slack. He said he felt no hesitation once he got back to practice.
“We’re supposed to go across the middle. We’re supposed to get hit every once in awhile,” he said. “We’re not going to see it when the hit is coming most of the time, but I’m ready to take a hit if I have to. That’s what I kind of see myself as anyways, more of a possession receiver.”
Woods said he echoed what Vraa said about his hamstring recovery and expects Vraa to play Saturday.
“He looked pretty good out there and you can tell he has the drive to play in this game,” Woods said. “That’s the way he’s been his whole career, doing what he can for the team.”