NDSU's Jirik brings pure toughness
FARGO — In another era, when goalies didn’t wear facemasks and hockey players didn’t have teeth, Cole Jirik may have been a natural for that sport beyond high school.
He was the leading scorer in high school in Northfield, Minn., and at 6-foot-5, would be an imposing figure on skates. You could picture him playing in one of those old Canadian junior leagues known for toughness because, when it comes to that trait, perhaps nobody exhibits it more than the North Dakota State senior defensive end.
Today in the FCS quarterfinal playoff game against Coastal Carolina, he’ll be playing in his 57th career game for the Bison, meaning he has never missed a game in his four-year career.
As long snapper Michael Murphy put it last week, it’s one thing for Murphy to play all 57 games because he doesn’t occupy a position that requires play-by-play contact. Jirik has had to do it this year despite two ailing shoulders that will require surgery after the season.
“It’s amazing he hasn’t missed a game yet,” said junior Kyle Emanuel, a fellow defensive end and mohawk hair style carrier. “He’s been playing through pain pretty much all of his career. It speaks to what kind of player he is, what kind of person he is and how he prepares.”
He was 215 pounds when he was a redshirt freshman, but with the gains in strength came gains in productivity. His career scale has been one steady climb.
In essence, he’s the snapshot of the senior class. They came in with the team coming off a 3-8 season and turned it into a national power.
“It’s crazy. You come in here and you really don’t know what to expect,” Jirik said. “NDSU really teaches you how to be a man. The players do a good job of instilling that when you first come here and you grow not only as a football player but you grow as a man as well.”
The 56 career games looks like this: Played in all 14 games a freshman, started eight of 15 games as a sophomore, started all 15 games last season and as a captain this year has started and been productive in all 12 games.
He’s had 31 tackles and 3½ quarterback sacks at a position the Bison rotate regularly to keep players fresh and to develop depth.
It’s been tough for him to hide the shoulder issue. Several times he’s been the last guy off the field after a defensive stop or a key tackle.
He said his shoulders “pop out a few times during the game.” Fellow linebacker Travis Beck has also endured the same problem the last couple of years.
“We have some braces that do a good job of holding it together,” Jirik said. “It hurts, but the adrenalin gets going and the pain goes away pretty quick.”
The closest he came to missing a game was two years ago when he developed concussion symptoms and wasn’t cleared by doctors, he said. Fortunately, he passed the baseline test before the next game.
“I can’t speak to it because I’ve never played with the injuries that he’s had,” Emanuel said, “but I think it’s more of a love for his teammates and his team and this program where he knows how important it is for him to be out there. It’s something that is extremely impressive to me and to the rest of the team.”
That team — that defense — will be put to the test today with a high-powered Coastal Carolina offense that is averaging 42.9 points per game.
“They’re good. You watch them all year on film and they score against everyone,” Jirik said. “They score fast, they score often and they score a lot. It’s probably the best offense we’ve seen all year.”
It was the 57th time he’s studied an opponent — he and Murphy both share the NDSU career record for most games played.
Shoulders willing, he wouldn’t mind that number reaching 59. It’s already been a career and then some.
“He’s Ironman,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “It’s really admirable he’s been able to stay on the field.”