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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 15 2012

Shift to football breeds success for NDSU's Luecke

Fargo - Practice ended several minutes earlier and Danny Luecke had just finished talking with his fellow North Dakota State defensive linemen. He walked several steps to the edge of the Bison practice field and prepared to answer a few questions.

He had to pause because he was breathing like a runner who had just finished the 400-meter sprint. Taking a day off is never an option.

Taking a day off from appreciating football is never an option, either.

“I’m still out here,” Luecke said.

What started as a project of sorts by former Fargo South head coach Kevin Feeney has turned into a solid contribution on the Bison defensive line. Luecke was playing soccer at South when Feeney convinced him to try football his sophomore season.

“He said I was too big for soccer,” Luecke said.

Feeney was right. Luecke was 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds when he walked on to the Bison football team as a freshman – still not very big by college standards. You should see him now.

The junior weighs 280 pounds and is banging heads with offensive linemen who helped lead NDSU to a Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title last season.

“I love the kid,” said NDSU defensive line coach Nick Goeser. “I feel really good about putting him in a game and I feel really good about us playing good defense with him in there.”

It was a battle for Luecke just to get to be a dependable backup. He tore both the anterior cruciate and medial collatoral ligaments in his left knee during preseason practice in 2010 and at that point, the prospect of him seeing any playing time at all was not promising.

Not only did he have to rehab the knee, he was well down on the defensive line depth chart.

“I had no idea where this game would take me or the challenges that it would bring,” Luecke said. “It’s not easy. It’s a grown man’s game and you have to be tough.”

Luecke is seeing more plays in practice because interior regular players Ryan Drevlow and Justin Juckem have been slowed by injuries. Goeser said the outlook is uncertain with the soreness in Juckem’s knees, but the prognosis looks good that he’ll play in NDSU’s season opener.

Luecke knows about knee pain. He wears it every day, too, to an extent. He tried going without a knee brace last spring, but it didn’t work out too well, he said.

“I was hurt for a year, the lord has blessed me every day I’m out here,” he said. “Every position is just a battle ground of who gets to play. I’m trying to improve every day.”

That improvement started with Feeney, a former Bison quarterback. There are not too many 280-pound soccer players out there these days.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.