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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 30 2012

NDSU's Juckem vying to return to game action

FARGO – The problem with his knees, Justin Juckem said, is rather simple. There isn’t much cartilage in there anymore.

But the North Dakota State defensive tackle returned to practice this week in hopes of finishing the season with a bang. He’s been out three weeks to rest and rehabilitate.

“I’m just trying to keep the pain tolerance down,” he said.

A junior, the ailing knees are robbing him of his potential, which was at its best last season when he played in all 15 games, starting two, and finishing with 41 tackles, four tackles for lost yardage and three quarterback hurries.

It’s possible, he said, this could be his last season, but it’s also something he’s not thinking about.

“I’m going day by day and if I feel good this week, I’m saying, ‘Coach, put me in,’ ” Juckem said. “Last season was just awesome and when you have a season like that, it’s hard to put the cleats away. That’s what keeps me going really.”

He keeps in tune with the defense by constantly studying the playbook. He reached about 290 pounds last year, but dropped 20 in offseason conditioning in hopes it would be easier on his knees. He’s playing at about 280 this week.

He’s played in just four games in the 7-1 season for No. 2-ranked NDSU, which plays at Missouri State on Saturday. His presence will be needed even more now that backup defensive tackle Brian Schaetz suffered a knee injury that will keep him out two to four weeks.

That dedication to get back in the lineup has not been lost on his teammates, either.

“I know he’s in a lot of pain,” said linebacker Grant Olson. “I know we appreciate everything that he does and how hard he works to help us out any way he can. That’s just the love of the game that he has.”

Starting noseguard Leevon Perry and defensive tackle Ryan Drevlow have taken most of the snaps. Schaetz took a regular spot in the backup rotation and after that junior Danny Luecke.

Juckem said it’s easier on his frustration level knowing his contributions haven’t been needed so far. The Bison lead Division I Football Championship Subdivision in scoring defense and total defense giving up 9.5 points and 184.6 yards per game.

“That’s an inspiration to get back,” Juckem said. “You feel helpless when you’re on the sideline.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia