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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 15 2013

Use of knee braces becomes more prevalent on Bison offensive line

FARGO – The North Dakota State offensive line has bulked up in the last couple of weeks, although it has nothing to do with muscle. The entire starting front has decided to wear protective knee braces.

A brief rash of MCL strains or sprains to starters Billy Turner, Joe Haeg and Tyler Gimmestad and backup Jack Plankers had players thinking twice about not wearing them. The NDSU staff gives the players the option, although Haeg said that’s been changed recently to “recommended” by team trainer Bobby Knodel.

“With all the injuries happening lately, I think everyone just decided to do it,” Haeg said.

None of the injuries were serious, with Plankers and Haeg the only ones to miss any games. Haeg, who was hurt on the last drive at Kansas State, could have gone against Ferris State (Mich.) but was held out as a precautionary measure.

There appears to be no concrete evidence either way whether the braces offer fool-proof protection against serious knee injuries. Generally, college players wear them while professional players don’t.

Before this season, NDSU had one incident of a knee injury in the last four years, said offensive line coach Scott Fuchs.

The biggest hassle is the initial adjustment period and comfort level, players say. Gimmestad said he wore one in high school, and it doesn’t both him too much.

Turner wears one on his right knee mainly because as the left tackle it is the one most susceptible to another player landing on it.

“I wear my right one because I got dinged on the right knee,” he said. “I tried wearing the left one, but it was too uncomfortable, and I couldn’t move around like I wanted to.”

Haeg said he doesn’t feel any slower and says he actually feels more of a sense of security with them. NDSU travels to Southern Illinois this week with its starting lineup intact. Plankers is expected to be available for the first time since getting hurt against Northern Iowa two weeks ago.

“I think they can perform at a high level whether they’re wearing them or not,” Fuchs said. “Maybe it’s just the comfort level for some of those guys.”

Both the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State require their offensive linemen to wear braces. Moreover, SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier is proposing this year that all of his defensive linemen wear one, too.

“I told our defensive line coach, ‘I think we should require them to wear one from here on out,’ ” Stiegelmeier said. “They looked at me like I was nuts.”

The practice of offensive linemen wearing protective measures has been in place as long as Stiegelmeier, who is in his 17th year as the head Jackrabbits coach, can remember.

“I don’t ever remember having a discussion of our offensive linemen not having them,” he said.

USD head coach Joe Glenn said he relies on his medical staff for the Coyotes requirement. Still, it’s not a guarantee.

The Coyotes lost senior offensive lineman Marc Murtha to a knee injury the last two years.

“He missed most of last season, repaired it and got hit in the knee again,” Glenn said. “I don’t know if he’ll make it back this season. It sure doesn’t save it.”

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