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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 27 2012

Walk-on Haeg cracks Bison starting lineup

FARGO – A little on the light side as far as Division I linemen go, something inside of Joe Haeg said go for it anyway. So last year, he walked on to the North Dakota State football team.

On Saturday, he’ll be in the starting lineup when the Bison open their season at home against Robert Morris University (Pa.). It’s further proof that area high school players don’t always have to be highly recruited to make an impact.

And in Haeg’s case, almost an immediate impact.

“I wanted to prove myself as a Division I athlete,” he said. “A lot of it I guess came from myself and believing that I was able to play at this level.”

Haeg was 268 pounds when he enrolled at NDSU last fall, up significantly from the 240 he was at his senior year in high school. At that point, he was probably so far down the Bison’s plans that making any prognosis on when he would crack the lineup was not in the cards.

But he also came from a high school program that is as stable as it gets. Haeg is from Brainerd, Minn., which boasts a football coach, Ron Stolski, who has been doing things right for a long time. He’s on his 39th year as the head coach.

It’s a lake country town where most of Haeg’s friends grew up around water. His family lives across the street from a lake.

But when it was time for football, the jet skis got put away.

“I was fortunate in that (Brainerd) has a good tradition and a great coaching staff,” Haeg said. “Coach Stolski and all of his assistants all work together.”

Haeg has now topped 280 pounds and will take the spot vacated by a Division I Football Championship Subdivision all-American in Paul Cornick. They are no easy shoes to fill – perhaps figuratively the biggest on the team.

“Coming into fall camp, I had no idea where I was going to be,” Haeg said, “but I also know I wanted a shot at a starting position. I had a couple of good practices and I finally had my shot.”

As a redshirt, he watched the Bison win a national championship. His contribution came on the scout team during practice, enough of an effort to feel part of the title.

“The team made you feel part of it,” Haeg said. “Even though I was on the scout team, I felt attached to the team. Obviously you don’t get the full feeling of winning it on the field, but I still helped out.”

Haeg said he never really considered any NCAA Division II offers, saying his college choice came down to walk-on spots at North Dakota in addition to NDSU.

It didn’t take him long to get a scholarship with the Bison.

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.