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Kindred's Plankers a rarity on, off the field

Photo by Dave Wallis/Forum Communications Co. Jack Plankers, left, pushes a player aside during practice on Nov. 2 at Kindred High School. The Kindred senior offensive lineman will sign a national letter of intent to play football for North Dakota State today.

KINDRED -- The lunch tables in the Kindred High School commons are made for high school students who are not 6-feet-7 and 290 pounds. Still, Jack Plankers sat down and talked about all things academic and athletic.

There's plenty there.

He's a 3.9 student who is currently sixth in his class, which graduates this spring. He scored a 30 on his ACT.

"A complete blessing," he said. "I thank God for it every day."

He's a rare Division I athlete from the school, certainly the first with a football scholarship. But you would never know it, teachers and administrators say. As a person, they say it's hard to find a nicer and more conscientious kid, and all it takes is one walk down the hallway with him to notice it. He answers questions with "yes sir" or "no sir" and good manners are a priority, not an option.

"He's always concerned," said Kent Packer, school principal. "He checked with me yesterday if it was OK to miss school to go sign his letter of intent."

Plankers will be on the North Dakota State campus today to hand deliver his football letter of intent. It's national signing day, and the offensive lineman will be part of a Bison signing day class that is expected to be between 16 and 18 players. For the NDSU coaches, it's the end of a long season that started with fall camp in the beginning of August, went through the regular season and, of course, rolled through to January with the Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title.

For Plankers, the recruiting season began long ago when he was a kid dreaming in a ball field somewhere. "I've wanted to play there for a long time," he said. "A bigger school would be nice, maybe, but it's been NDSU all the way."

His allegiance is so strong, in fact, that if given the choice between Wisconsin and NDSU, he said he would still pick NDSU. He dabbled briefly with the Badgers last summer, but they never followed up with him, and a week later he accepted the Bison scholarship offer.

He was the first player to verbally commit to NDSU for this class. In the ensuing months, the verbals have come at a sporadic pace. Plankers knows some of the recruits through summer football camp, but his athletic concentration these days is with the Vikings basketball team and his morning workouts.

On days Kindred doesn't have a game, you'll often find Plankers in the school weight room or gymnasium at 6:30 a.m. He lives 20 miles from the school on a farm, meaning he leaves his house not long after 6 a.m.

"I've never really stopped doing football," he said.

The workouts consist of footwork drills and weight training. He expects to redshirt next season with the Bison to work on his physical development, especially his legs. He said Bison coaches have told him he'll be surprised at how much more explosive he can get.

"I'm like a tank with no tracks," he said.

A tank on the field, anyway. Asked about his friendly nature and if he maintains it when he puts on a football helmet, he got to the point. His Kindred hallway demeanor disappears.

"I have no friends on the field," he said.

The nice thing about college, said Kindred head coach Cody Kittelson, is Plankers won't have to worry about hurting anybody in practice. In small schools, big kids are often told to pull back to avoid injuring smaller, younger players. And once a game starts, Kittelson said, "It's hard to transfer that on to the field, but he was a lot more physical toward the end of the year."

As a former Bison player, Kittelson said Plankers signing at NDSU will be a great experience for him. Signing day essentially is Day 1 of his college career.

"It will be a proud moment," Packer said. "He's a kid you can count on. I've told him to make sure he enjoys it, because these kinds of days don't come along that often to too many people. I kid him to make sure you don't forget about us and he promised he wouldn't."

Kolpack is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.