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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 20 2012

Vaadeland ready to step in after some hurdles early in Bison football career

FARGO – The feel-good story would be North Dakota State tight end Kevin Vaadeland has returned to the field with his knee 100 percent ready to go. The reality is the junior is still battling it, almost on a daily basis.

Still, he’s set to make his first career start on Saturday when the Bison host Prairie View A&M (Texas) at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

“I want to embrace it,” he said. “I feel like I’m ready and now is my time. It’s been a long time coming.”

His time came this week after senior Garrett Bruhn was sidelined two to four weeks with a knee injury against Colorado State.

Vaadeland missed most of his first two seasons at NDSU with an ACL tear and partial meniscus tear, both in his right knee. A standout in high school in Park Rapids, Minn., he saw limited action last year, catching five passes while playing in 13 games.

He’s expected to share time with junior Taylor Nelson and freshman Derrick Lee against Prairie View – NDSU’s last nonconference game before league play begins.

“Those guys will all play,” said tight ends coach Tim Polasek. “We’re progressing. You always like to be positive, but we do need to play better.”

It’s a thought echoed by Nelson, who caught a touchdown pass in the season opener against Robert Morris (Pa.). Like Vaadeland, he’s been in the program for four years and is looking forward to the possibility of extended repetitions against the Panthers.

“You’re like, geez, you wonder when your opportunity is coming,” Nelson said. “But when it does, you have to seize the moment. We still have a long ways to go, though.”

Polasek said Bruhn was considered one of the top two blocking tight ends in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Nelson is probably considered the better blocker and Vaadeland has a better understanding of the passing game between the two.

Vaadeland said there was some doubt about his returning to health in the early stages of his first knee injury. He was known more as a linebacker in high school, but was switched to tight end when he got to NDSU.

“I think I have the offense down,” he said. “I’m just working on the technique stuff like footwork and hands. I may be more of the pass catcher, but I’m working on the run-blocking stuff.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia