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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 03 2013

Fargo South graduate's weight gain paves way for transfer from VCSU to NDSU

FARGO – The Sheyenne River runs through the Valley City State campus, and maybe there’s something in the water. Whatever the case, Zac Johnson found a growth spurt when he got to college.

It didn’t stop until he grew to 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, and when the Fargo South graduate looked in the mirror, he saw something that didn’t exist in high school: Division I size. So after two years with the Vikings, he decided to pursue his life-long dream to play football for North Dakota State.

The snickers could be heard from all corners of his world.

“They think you’re never going to make it or you don’t have a chance,” Johnson said.

Well, he’s getting a chance anyway. Now, after adding 10 pounds since arriving at NDSU, Johnson weighs 295. He’ll get a shot to make some sort of dent on the depth chart at center in spring football, which started this week.

That was never even a consideration at South, when he was a 6-2, 245-pound all-state player whose college options were maybe a couple of Division II schools but mostly NAIA programs like Valley City. It was a good fit, and Johnson said he’s appreciative of the two years he had with the Vikings.

“I really enjoyed it there, and it was a tough decision to leave,” he said, “But this is where I wanted to be. This was my goal. It was my dream growing up in Fargo.”

He’s the second NDSU transfer from Valley City State. Running back Darius Anderson also redshirted last fall and is expected to challenge for a backup role, making it a rare NAIA-to-Division I convergence.

That doesn’t exactly have Vikings head coach Dennis McCulloch doing high-fives.

“You’re never excited when football players on your team that are here and committed leave your program,” he said. “It’s never a good thing. We normally don’t see transfers going that way. We normally see transfers coming our way.”

McCulloch says he has no issue with NDSU and how it has handled the situation. Both Anderson and Johnson weren’t even on the official roster last fall despite playing on the scout team.

“Their job is like our job, to win football games,” McCulloch said. “They don’t care where they come from. I’m the same way. If a player transfers in and wants to come in, you take advantage.”

Johnson has taken advantage of his size, which wasn’t prevalent when Kevin Feeney coached him at South. Feeney figures he was around 225 pounds his junior year when coaches begin to project his college prospects.

“When you’re talking offensive line, you’re probably not talking FCS and possibly not even Division II,” Feeney said. “But he was really into football. He was always at everything. I think he’s a product of one of those kids who kept believing.”

Johnson gained 20 pounds the summer after high school and added another 20 as a sophomore at Valley City.

“I’m guessing I just must have hit a growth spurt while I was there,” he said.

When he contacted NDSU, Johnson said he was made immediately aware of the probable tough road ahead. His prominent memory is offensive line coach Scott Fuchs asking him, “What’s more your dream: To play football or to be at NDSU? Because if it’s football, you’re at Valley City and you’re starting.”

The answer was NDSU. He’ll have two years of eligibility.

And reality hit the first day of practice when he had to block starting nose guard Leevon Perry.

“That was an interesting experience,” Johnson said.

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