FARGO — North Dakota State senior James Hendricks has the ability to play multiple positions, including both safety spots and both outside linebacker spots. Hendricks said he can play all those spots comfortably.
Even though he's a fixture on defense, Hendricks still has a soft spot for the position at which he was first recruited. From Bemidji, Minn., he entered the NDSU football program as a quarterback before shifting to defense. As recent as last fall camp, he took some reps at quarterback. He smiled when asked if he could still play under center.
"There's always going to be a part of me that is still a quarterback, but I'm 100% Code Green right now and I love being on defense and I love being part of this NDSU defense," Hendricks said.
Code Green is a nickname given to the Bison defense, where Hendricks is one of the veterans in the defensive backfield. He started all 15 games last season at free safety, finishing fifth on the team with 49 tackles. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound Hendricks also had five interceptions to rank second on the team in that category.
"Outstanding leader, outstanding football player," Bison head coach Matt Entz said. "He could probably play four or five positions and in fact probably has played four or five positions for us through his career."
Hendricks also played in all 15 games on defense during his sophomore season in 2017, finishing with 36 tackles and four interceptions. He also served as the emergency quarterback during that season. Hendricks started making the transition from quarterback to defense after his redshirt freshman season in the program.
"It first started out with us utilizing him on special teams because he's too good an athlete to just hold the clipboard or be the backup quarterback," Entz said. "It's been a great move. Regardless of what position he would have ever played, he was going to be successful."
Hendricks said he changed his body composition this past offseason. Entz said Hendricks looks stronger and thicker, even though Hendricks is listed on the roster this fall as 3 pounds lighter than his junior season.
"I lost like 3 pounds, but I leaned out," Hendricks said. "I started eating better. It's kind of the senior trend to start eating better when you get to be a senior because the food starts affecting you more. So I lost weight, leaned out and added more muscle. ... I feel faster and I'm stronger; better weight."
Hendricks said he followed the lead of his roommates, seniors Derrek Tuszka, Ben Ellefson and Cole Karcz, when it came to eating better.
"They eat really healthy," Hendricks said.
Hendricks is one of five senior starters listed on the Bison defense at this point of fall camp. Tuszka is a starting defensive end, Karcz is a starter at defensive tackle, Jack Darnell is a starter at nose guard and Marquise Bridges is a starter at cornerback. Sophomore Michael Tutsie is slotted to start at strong safety.
Hendricks likes the makeup of the defense, as it prepares for the Aug. 31 season opener against Butler at Target Field in Minneapolis.
"I think our team speed is second to none. We've got a lot of playmakers and a lot of athletes on our defense," Hendricks said. "If we're playing confident and we're playing fast and we know what we're doing, we're going to be able to overwhelm teams this year. ... We might not have has much depth as last year, which we're still trying to develop, that's what fall camp is for. Our top guys I think are really athletic and great playmakers."
Even though the Bison have a new defensive coordinator in David Braun, Hendricks doesn't see any changes in the way the team plays defense. Entz was the defensive coordinator last season before he was elevated to head coach after Chris Klieman took over the head coaching job at Kansas State.
NDSU limited teams to 12.6 points per game last season en route to a 15-0 record that culminated with a seventh NCAA Division I FCS national title in the past eight seasons.
"The Bison way is never going to change," Hendricks said. "We've got the same defense and maybe some tweaks here and there and maybe some new ideas from the new coaches who have come in, but NDSU is going to stay NDSU and we have the same stuff going on."
Entz said when Hendricks excels, the Bison defense is better.
"We need him to be at his best and when James is at his best, he's pretty dang good and one of the best football players in the league," Entz said.