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Tom Miller / Forum Communications Co., Published July 13 2012

Warren-Alvarado-Oslo standout preparing for NDSU debut

MAYVILLE, N.D. – Zach Riopelle’s goal is to enter North Dakota State’s football program on Aug. 1 in as good of condition as possible.

To achieve that, the former Warren-Alvarado-Oslo star has stayed exceptionally busy this summer.

Two weeks ago, Riopelle played in the Minnesota high school all-star football game in St. Cloud.

Today, Riopelle is one of 12 players from northwest Minnesota who will compete in the 39th annual North Dakota Shrine football game at Fargo Shanley High School.

Riopelle, who spent the week practicing with his Shrine team on the campus of Mayville State University, will compete for the 11-man East team. The 11-man game begins at 4 p.m., while the 9-man game follows at 7 p.m. The game will be played outdoors for the first time since 2000 (Dacotah Field in Fargo).

Riopelle hopes the busy football schedule will be beneficial in his first season with the Bison.

“Getting stronger is a huge part,” Riopelle said. “Between conditioning and strength, I’m trying to get my body ready.”

There’s only minimal downside for Riopelle spending his summer on the football field.

“It’d be nice to make some more money,” he said. “I miss a whole week here, then there’s the Fourth of July, then I’m gone again. The paychecks are a little skimpy.”

But Tom Maus, Grafton head coach and this week’s leader of the 11-man East squad, is glad Riopelle chose the Shrine Game route.

“With his size and instincts at linebacker, I can see why he’s a Division I recruit,” Maus said. “He’s a great athlete and a physical football player.”

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Riopelle led the Ponies to an 8-4 record and a state-tournament appearance as a senior. Riopelle was the 2011 North Star Conference Offensive Back of the Year after rushing 237 times for 1,453 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also recorded 82 tackles and three sacks. With the Ponies, he set school records for rushing yards (4,502), points (368) and touchdowns (59).

He’s also a multi-sport athlete who eclipsed 1,000 career points in basketball.

Riopelle enters an NDSU program coming off a Football Championship Subdivision national title.

The Bison are No. 2 in the preseason USA Today poll.

“It’s pressure,” Riopelle said. “But no one is going to know who I am until a year later. I plan to take my redshirt and use that year to get bigger, stronger and faster … then be ready to play a year after that.”

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald