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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 06 2013

Stumpf hopes to shoulder more of load for Bison football team at linebacker

FARGO – Hardly a play went by Saturday where North Dakota State outside linebacker MJ Stumpf didn’t hear something from a coach. It’s not Football 101 anymore for the freshman from Harvey, N.D.

He’s gone right to a 400-level class, and the Bison are hoping he’ll learn enough during spring football to play a role next fall. Reason No. 1: Starter Travis Beck played every down last season.

“Sometimes it’s tough criticism, but it’s good criticism, and it helps you for the best,” Stumpf said.

Beck is sitting out spring practice to rehabilitate an injured shoulder. He played in the national championship game despite having trouble raising his arm above his head, and it’s situations like that the Bison would like to avoid next season.

Linebackers coach Steve Stanard said the hope is to get Beck off the field for 10 to 15 plays a game. Stumpf is getting the first shot, with junior Esley Thorton getting a chance to back up the other starting outside linebacker, junior Carlton Littlejohn.

“Between those two guys, they need to come forward,” head coach Craig Bohl said of Stumpf and Thorton.

Stumpf has the physical look to be a Division I Football Championship Subdivision linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He has the speed.

The emphasis the first week of practice was mostly mental, with Stanard constantly reminding him on details like where to exactly line up.

“Definitely a lot of stuff coming at me right now, especially being out there with the ‘ones,’” Stumpf said of the first-team defense. “Running with them is intimidating, but you have to take it day by day, learn the plays, know where to put your eyes and just play fast.”

It helps having veteran players like Littlejohn and starting middle linebacker Grant Olson. Stanard said he’s had to remind both starters not to throw too much information at Stumpf, who redshirted last fall and spent most of the season on the scout squad.

“Remember, he’s a freshman, so keep it simple for him,” Stanard said. “Sometimes, (Olson) sees the game like a coach, and sometimes he tells MJ a little too much.”

So far, there’s nothing to indicate that Stumpf isn’t on the same path that Beck took. Both are small-town North Dakota players who are about the same size with excellent speed. Stumpf was on a Class B state title relay team in track and field at Harvey.

“You’re representing your home state and going to NDSU. It’s a challenge,” Stumpf said.

It’s a challenge that is expected to continue into next season. That’s when the evidence on Beck getting any rest will be known.

“It was hard on them last year, and they don’t want to do it again,” Stumpf said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, and I’m trying to do as much as I can to get on the field so they don’t have to play every down.”

Bohl said freshman defensive tackle Austin Farnlof suffered a possible ACL tear in his knee in practice Saturday.

Asked on his thoughts after one week, Bohl said, “Mixed feelings. We’re so dog-gone thin that we’re probably not as refined as a football team as what we should be.”

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

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia