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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 06 2010

College football: Alive and kicking, Healthy NDSU punter ranks fourth nationally

It got to the point where John Prelvitz couldn’t bend down for about four days last year. And thankfully for him, the football season at North Dakota State had just ended.

It wasn’t a healthy one. What started as irritation in the lower back in fall camp never did improve and by the time the Southern Illinois game was over – just the fourth game of the year – the Bison punter knew he had a medical issue, which was later diagnosed as stress fracture in his lower back.

“I remember some games just hobbling out there,” he said.

Hobbling and punting don’t go together – and that probably best explained why Prelvitz averaged a less-than-expected 39.3 yards per punt, a figure that kept getting lower as the year went on.

Happy days are here again. After averaging 51.5 yards on four boots against Western Illinois last week – including a career-high 58-yarder – he’s fourth in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision statistics at 44.3 yards.

Even more impressive is NDSU’s standing in the team net punting category. The Bison lead the country at 41.0 yards, meaning every time NDSU has punted, the opposing team has started 41 yards down field.

“That’s what we’re looking for,” said head coach Craig Bohl.

Net punting requires a combination of a good long snap from freshman Michael Murphy, good blocking up front, Prelvitz getting some height on his kicks and the coverage team holding their ground.

Backup safeties Brock Gion and Colten Heagle and starting linebacker Brandon Jemison are three coverage players in particular responsible for coverage. Gion, however, tore his ACL against Western Illinois and is out for the year.

“Guys are getting down the field and making plays,” Prelvitz said.

Prelvitz, meanwhile, is healthy enough to get good leg extension on his punts, something that was missing last year.

While stretching at halftime in the last game of the year against Youngstown State – NDSU’s opponent Saturday – Prelvitz said he heard something pop. It meant backup punter Matt Voigtlander got the call and it also meant the Bison also had to use their backup holder on field goals and extra points in the second half.

The remedy was mainly rest. Prelvitz stopped punting until late in spring football.

“It just feels better,” he said. “I’m able to get my drop where I want it and pound away.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia