WATCH: For second straight year, Bison running back Dunn will return for title game
FARGO — The mentality of a North Dakota State running back is rather simple, and can be simplified into two easy steps. Hit. And be hit.
Most plays end up in some sort of collision and nobody knows that better than senior Lance Dunn. The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Dunn never hesitates to initiate the contact at the line of scrimmage.
“You have to be tough to play football here,” he said. “It’s part of the game. You’re going to get hurt.”
For the second straight season, Dunn missed games in December. But for the second straight year, he’ll return for the one game that counts in January when NDSU plays Eastern Washington on Saturday for the NCAA Division I FCS national championship in Frisco, Texas.
It appears Dunn has beaten the estimated time of being sidelined after suffering an elbow injury in the quarterfinal win over Colgate. Specifically, he completely tore the ulnar collateral ligament, an injury usually associated with baseball pitchers.
If Dunn were the Bison quarterback, there is little chance he would play. He was told the timeline for healing was between four to six weeks, but returned to practice last week, just two weeks after the injury. As fast as he is on the field, it's almost as if he's a faster healer.
Bison head coach Chris Klieman on Monday said Dunn appears fully ready to play with very little restrictions. He was slated at one point to have to wear a brace but even that has been shelved.
“They said if I played quarterback, I would probably have to get the surgery but since I’m a running back, I should be able to get the strength back,” Dunn said. “I feel like with the progression I’ve gotten so far, I’m feeling pretty good. I feel good to go.”
Dunn was hurt on his fifth carry against Colgate. He watched the play in slow motion on videotape and saw himself trying to catch himself as he was about to hit the Gate City Bank Field turf. His elbow hyperextended.
“It was a great play by him,” Dunn said of the Raiders tackler. “He came out of nowhere, it was a great hit. I knew it was torn right after that.”
He missed seven games last season and was presumed out for the year with a torn labrum in his hip.
“He will not likely play this season,” Klieman said soon after the diagnosis last season.
NDSU, however, made another playoff run into December and after defeating Sam Houston State in the semifinals, Dunn had three more weeks to heal.
He made the most of it. He was a key running back in the 17-13 victory over James Madison in the title game gaining 50 yards on 13 carries. That included a 21-yard run that reached the JMU 26-yard line midway in the fourth quarter.
“Last year was more of a haul to get back,” Dunn said. “This year, I was just fortunate it was an upper-body injury. I’ll tape it up and go."
Klieman said he expects all of the Bison running backs to be available for the Eastern Washington game, although senior Bruce Anderson and sophomore Seth Wilson both left the semifinal win over South Dakota State with leg injuries and are questionable.
"They'll try and move around more today," Klieman said.
Junior Ty Brooks also appeared to get dinged up in that game and at one point, sophomore Adam Cofield was the only available healthy back against the Jackrabbits in the fourth quarter.
This week, all five running backs will make the trip to Frisco.
“Going into this game last year after missing so many games, you don’t take anything for granted,” Dunn said. “You do whatever you can to get back and finish the season off how it started.”