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Eric Peterson, Published August 23 2013

'Danny Football' finds his role with Bison

FARGO – Danny Luecke started his college football career as a walk-on. Now, he’s a scholarship player with a nickname.

“He’s now dubbed ‘Danny Football,’ ” North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl said with a grin after Friday’s practice.

The former Fargo South standout is set to start at defensive tackle for the Bison Friday when they open their season at Kansas State.

“I’ve never really had a nickname,” Luecke said with a laugh. “I appreciate the respect that the nickname might have.”

The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Luecke walked off the field Friday with his long hair flowing in the wind. His current physical appearance is a stark contrast to the look he sported in 2009 when he entered the program.

His hair was shorter and he weighed around 60 pounds less in that first season with the team.

“The journey has been crazy, to see the change, knowing where I’ve been,” said Luecke, who played tight end and defensive line in high school.

“Being a small 220 guy and wondering if I should be here.”

Luecke has proved he belongs as his career has progressed.

The “Danny Football” moniker started during this preseason camp. Bohl said Luecke has made “countless sacks” and has “really” developed as a football player.

Luecke isn’t exactly sure who started the “Danny Football” name.

“He’s had a pretty good fall camp,” said Bison junior center Jesse Hinz, who is also Luecke’s roommate. “After he made a play, people would be like ‘Danny Football.’ ”

Luecke was a defensive end when he entered the Bison program. During that redshirt season, holding up physically wasn’t his lone concern.

“I didn’t know if I would mentally be able to learn the playbook,” Luecke said. “That was a big part of the challenge that first year, just learning the system.”

Bohl said Luecke is a prime example of a player who has done everything asked of him.

“He’s a true success story, and he’s added great value to our team,” Bohl said. “He’s a self-made player. He’s a legitimate player.”

Hinz, from Beatrice, Neb., also respects the path Luecke has taken, starting as a walk-on player and blossoming into a starter for one of the top defenses in Division I FCS.

“I absolutely appreciate that,” Hinz said. “Nobody deserves being on the field more than Danny Luecke. He is a great person on and off the field.”

Luecke said his first two seasons were challenging. Injury cut short his second year with the team. He suffered a knee injury during preseason practice in 2010. During those tough times, Luecke said his faith was important.

“My foundation is my faith in Jesus Christ,” Luecke said. “That’s the single factor and the main thing that has allowed me to succeed.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com