Bison defensive lineman Waege has been a bigger, better version this spring
North Dakota State junior Spence Waege has been one of the top playmakers on the Bison defensive line during the spring football season.
FARGO — North Dakota State defensive lineman Spencer Waege was initially skeptical of adding around 20 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame after completing his redshirt sophomore campaign.
“Right away I was a little hesitant,” said Waege, who is from South Shore, S.D.
Waege was listed at 259 pounds during the 2019 season, which ended with a third consecutive NCAA Division I FCS national championship for the Bison.
“When we talked about getting me to 275, 280, it was just like ‘OK, am I going to be able to move the same? Am I going to be able to have the same get off?’” Waege said. “Thoughts like that were in the back of my head.”
The extra weight hasn’t weighed down Waege during the Missouri Valley Football Conference spring season. Through four spring games, he has 3 1/2 sacks, 6 1/2 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and a blocked extra point.
“Spencer’s just done a really good job,” said Bison linebacker Jackson Hankey, who leads the team with 43 tackles. “He tends to be a really big playmaker. … He’s really disruptive to the other team’s offense and what they’re trying to do. That helps us out a ton at the second level and for our team as a whole.”
The Bison need Waege to continue to be a disruptive force this weekend.
No. 4-ranked NDSU (4-1, 3-1 MVFC) plays the No. 2-ranked University of North Dakota (4-0, 4-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Fighting Hawks are the lone unbeaten team in Missouri Valley play, while the Bison have won 31 consecutive home games.
UND leads the conference in scoring offense, averaging 32.8 points per game. The Bison are tied for second in the MVFC in scoring defense (along with UND), allowing 17.2 points per game. NDSU has surrendered 13 points over its past two games.
“As a D-line we always talk about, we can kind of control the game,” Waege said. “We kind of can set the tone for the entire defense.”
Waege missed NDSU’s lone game last fall, a 39-28 home victory against Central Arkansas, with a foot injury, so he couldn’t show what he could do at 274 pounds until this spring. He said around a year ago is when he started to realize that adding extra weight to his frame wasn’t going to be a detriment to his on-field performance.
“It was before all the COVID stuff had happened when we had our one spring practice and we were doing some of our runs then, I was up to 270 or just over by then,” Waege said of last spring. “I had thought I was moving very well at that weight. Then was kind of the first spot, ‘Ok, I can handle gaining some more weight yet.’ I feel good where I’m at and the coaches feel the same way.”
Waege said he trusted Bison strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer would help him add more bulk, while keeping his speed and adding strength.
“So far this spring season, it’s been night and day,” Waege said. “I also think it’s been very beneficial for my pass rush as well.”
Waege had three sacks in a 25-0 victory at Missouri State during the third week of the spring season. He added a tackle for a loss and a key blocked extra point in a 21-13 home victory against Illinois State last weekend.
Bison head coach Matt Entz described Waege as a “dynamic” pass rusher with the ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle.
“Those 20 pounds that Kramer helped put on were all muscle,” Entz said. “He still has that twitchiness, that explosiveness that you don’t see a lot of 280-pounders have.”
Waege is expected to play an important role against UND, which is averaging 441.0 yards per game to lead the conference. The Fighting Hawks also lead the league in rushing offense with 217.8 yards per game.
UND sophomore running back Otis Weah, a Moorhead High School graduate, has rushed for 441 yards and six touchdowns on 63 attempts. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Weah is averaging 110.2 yards per game and 7.0 yards per carry. UND freshman quarterback Tommy Schuster has completed 87 of 127 passes (69%) for 849 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions.
“Their running backs, they run hard, they’ll run someone over, they’ll break tackles and extend plays that way,” Waege said. “They do a really good job of getting their quarterback out of the pocket and giving him time to make the easy throws.”