It has become my favorite blog post of the year. The Thursday before the final regular season game to look back at the careers of the NDSU senior class. This particular class is not big in size (10) but makes up for that in ability. As Big E yells at me, “Would you rather have 5-6 impact guys in each class and miss on some or 15-16 average guys with no home runs?”. As always, Eric is right in this case. It’s interesting to go back and look who came in with the 2012 class and perhaps what would have happened if some of them stayed. The ones that did are pretty special players.
- Quentin McCoy – McCoy came to Fargo in the summer of 2015, a transfer from Santa Rosa Community College. He didn’t see the field last year at cornerback, but his experience was needed this season after Jaylaan Wimbush was injured. McCoy came in against South Dakota State and played well in a tough spot. His value may come into play as the postseason nears as the Bison may need to rely on more corners against pass happy offenses.
- Eric Perkins – One of the five members of the original Class of 2012, a walk-on from Kewaskum, Wisconsin. He introduced himself to Bison fans with a terrific over the middle, jumping reception against Ferris State in 2013. Perkins was plagued by injuries his first year and a half in Fargo and it wasn’t until the 11th game of the 2014 season where he really made a mark. Perkins was inserted as the punt returner that game against Missouri State and really displayed his speed. Perkins was the main returner in 2015 and made a splash on national television, with a fabulous 88 yard touchdown return against Richmond in the national semifinals, the backbreaker to lead NDSU back to Frisco. Perkins has again been hurt his senior season, but his return to punt return seems imminent, perhaps this weekend against South Dakota.
- Brad Ambrosius – It’s funny to think that any true freshman played in 2013, on that greatest NDSU team of all time, but there four that did and Ambrosius was one of them. He made his debut during the middle part of the season, I remember first seeing him on the field at Indiana State that season. Ambrosius showed great strength and speed, and the potential was there to be a very good defensive end. He learned from the best in 2014 in Kyle Emanuel, as Ambrosius started opposite him after Mike Hardie was injured. He really came into his in 2015, starting all 15 games on the left side. Ambrosius was tremendous in the second half of the season, especially the playoffs, where he sacked Kyle Lauletta twice in the Richmond blowout. He’s a very solid senior season, five sacks heading into the final game of the year and he and Greg Menard will be critical on the D-line with Nate Tanguay being lost for the year.
- King Frazier – Frazier was Chris Klieman’s first major addition to the team after Klieman took over as head coach in January 2014. Frazier arrived in Fargo as a transfer from Nebraska, he had been originally recruited by Klieman in 2012. Frazier didn’t see a ton of action in his debut year, playing behind John Crockett, but you saw flashes of his speed and toughness. He inherited the top spot in 2015 and literally took off with it, going for eleven hundred yards and eleven touchdowns last year, being named All-Valley second team. Frazier was huge in the postseason with back to back 100 yard games against UNI and Richmond. He’s been even better in my mind in 2016, already with nine touchdowns and that’s despite missing a game with injury. Fumbles continue to plague Frazier, you go back to the SDSU game this year and how big a play that was, but there’s no denying Frazier has emerged as the go-to running back Klieman hoped he would be.
- Pierre Gee-Tucker – Tucker was a heralded recruit, who was going to sign with Northern Iowa, until a last second switch on Signing Day 2013. He broke into the lineup as a true freshman on special teams and you could instantly see his athleticism. Tucker was slowed down in 2013 and 2014 with injuries, but when it was his time to ascend into the starting lineup, Tucker flourished. His pick six against Western Illinois changed that game and never looked back. Tucker’s play has been as consistent as ever in 2016 and in my opinion, he’s an all-conference linebacker.
Zack Johnson – One of the few members of the recruiting class of 2012, Johnson was thrust into the starting lineup that year against South Dakota in Sioux Falls and you could see the talent that was there. Johnson took over the starting left guard spot in 2013 and was tremendous, being named All-Valley 2nd team. He admitted he struggled early against Kansas State that season, but after that it was smooth sailing. Things derailed though as Johnson had micro fracture knee surgery and had to miss the entire 2014 season. He returned for his junior year in 2015 and picked up right where he left off, being named First Team Missouri Valley and an All-American. Johnson has had a great senior season on an experienced O-line and if he can stay healthy, will get looks at the next level.
Jack Plankers – I first saw Jack play at Kindred in 2009, and you knew then there could be something special there. Plankers size already was intimidating, especially for someone coming out of Kindred. Brent Vigen recruited Plankers hard and you knew somehow that he was going to get bigger and stronger. Plankers was inserted into the lineup almost out of necessity in 2013 against Northern Iowa after the Bison suffered a couple of injuries up front and he impressed. Plankers was part of 9 man rotation up front for the Bison in 2014 and got his chance to start last season in 12 games. He’s been the unquestioned starter at right guard in 2016 and he’s been a tower of strength there. When the history of D-1 athletes from North Dakota is written, Plankers will be high on the list.
Landon Lechler – Lechler will also be high on the list of top players that hailed from North Dakota. A standout basketball player at Beach High School, who came to NDSU in 2012 already at an imposing height. Lechler saw the field backing up Billy Turner in 2013, and then in 2014 took over as the starting right tackle when Joe Haeg moved spots. No one has played right tackle since. Lechler has started 42 consecutive games, so outside of being incredibly durable, he’s also gotten better. So much so, Lechler was named the Valley Offensive Linemen of the Week after NDSU beat Iowa. Lechler graded out 100% against the Hawkeyes while not allowing a sack. Lechler opened the door for future 9-man players to start for NDSU, like Jeff Illies, Brock Robbins and down the line, the Volson Brothers.
MJ Stumpf – The pride of Harvey, North Dakota has turned into a fantastic football player. Stumpf didn’t see a lot of the field in 2013 and 2014, mostly on special teams. He was a major question mark in my mind in Spring Football in 2015 about his ability to step in and be a difference maker at linebacker. All that Stumpf did was finish second on the team in tackles a year ago and become a fixture on the Bison defense. What he also did was make sure that opponents knew who hit you. Stumpf by far is the hardest hitter on the Bison defense, just ask Jacobi Green from Richmond last year how hard Stumpf hits. He was a ball-hawker as well, recovering four fumbles last year. His senior season has been sensational, he had one of the plays of the game against Iowa with the interception and touchdown return. He had the play of the game against Western Illinois with a monster hit at the goal line that prevented a Leatherneck touchdown. Another home run in-state product.
Chase Morlock – He’s not an in-state product, but he’s as close as it gets. The Moorhead native was a big recruit for the Class of 2013 and when we heard that he was going to play as a true freshman, it raised some eyebrows since the Bison already had Sam Ojuri and John Crockett in the backfield. Morlock was an instant contributor on special teams, a role he hasn’t relinquished even as a senior. He found the endzone twice in his freshman year, but really made his mark in the 204 season opener at Iowa State, scoring on a 66 yard touchdown run that sealed Chris Klieman’s first win. You really got to see Morlock’s athleticism in 2015, as Tim Polasek used him all over the field, including as a receiver, catching the first touchdown of the year in Missoula. He was tremendous the following week against Weber State, scoring two touchdowns over 60 yards in length. He was hurt for a time last season, but still didn’t miss a game. His senior year has been a roller coaster, dealing with the death of his father, Paul. He led the Bison out of the locker room the following week against SDSU and received a standing ovation from the NDSU faithful. He also received the loudest cheers on Saturday during Senior Day. Morlock is the most popular player on the team and there’s no wonder why he was selected as a captain.
There they are. It’s a small class, but an impactful one for the Bison football team.