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Bison players, coaches impressed how fast Hendricks learned linebacker position

James Hendricks of North Dakota State challenges Harrison Dreher of Robert Morris Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO—It's not certain how flexible James Hendricks' neck is, but the North Dakota State sophomore must have a pretty good rotational aspect to it. He did so many jobs in practice last week that it would make most players' head spin.

The backup safety, and also the team's backup quarterback, played 55 snaps at linebacker in the 49-14 win against the University of South Dakota. The kicker: Hendricks had never played linebacker in his life until last week in practice.

"Jimmy Football is amazing," said cornerback Jaylaan Wimbush, in reference to his nickname for Hendricks. "He never ceases to amaze me. He's a great guy and as soon as they said he was going to play linebacker, I knew he was going to pick it up like it was nothing."

With injuries to Levi Jordheim and Chris Board, the Bison turned to Hendricks to learn the position like it was nothing.

"He learned how to play the position in two practices," said head coach Chris Klieman.

Granted, the Bison kept it basic against the Coyotes, predominantly going with four defensive looks. But in a Tampa 2 defense where the constant chatter over the years is how difficult it can be to pick it up, the fact Hendricks learned the basics in a week is rare, at the least. Klieman said Hendricks played "at a pretty high level" against USD.

Hendricks' weekly schedule is a hodge-podge of positions and meetings. He gets together with quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to go over the offensive game plan.

He usually meets with defensive backs coach Joe Klanderman, although last week it was with defensive coordinator Matt Entz, who handles the linebackers.

The same flip-flop happens during practice. Last week, he took some repetitions at strong safety and linebacker and toward the end of practice went over to the offensive side and took about 10 minutes at quarterback.

"I told him you may be the only player in the country to play (weakside) linebacker one series and quarterback the next," Klieman said. "That's the reality of it. Now James is just a sophomore but that's why I think our seniors have such an unbelievable appreciation for what the kid does."

Hendricks had four tackles against the Coyotes on a defense that shut USD out in the second half. Asked if the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hendricks is big enough to play linebacker, Klieman said no, although the scheme against the Coyotes made it more palatable for a smaller player.

"I think you have to play with a different mindset," Hendricks said.

In that sense, he studies the game with a more expansive mindset. Hendricks said juggling the three roles generally isn't taxing to him. NDSU plays at Illinois State on Saturday, Nov. 18, and where Hendricks will play will depend on the health of Board, who played on special teams last week but not much at linebacker.

"I was here a lot last week," Hendricks said outside the Bison locker room complex. "It was a little overwhelming at the beginning, but you just have to learn it and you don't want to go out there on Saturday not knowing what you're doing. I don't get stressed out about it, I think it's fun learning new things. There is so much to learn about the game of football, especially in our program, so I think that's what I enjoy doing."

What: North Dakota State at Illinois State

When: Noon on Saturday

Where: Hancock Stadium, Normal, Ill.

Radio: 1660-AM, 92.7-FM, 107.9-FM. TV: KVLY

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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