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North Dakota State prepares for Indiana State

By Jeff Kolpack

Forum News Service

FARGO — The punt wasn’t quite at its apex at the Fargodome a couple of weeks ago when it became obvious that Ryan Smith was going to have a chance to return it. The season was already six games old and one of the best returners in North Dakota State history had yet to field a punt.

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It was like riding a bike for Smith. In this case, he pedaled 85 yards for a touchdown and the Bison had an immediate upper hand on Missouri State.

“Being back there again is definitely an honor,” said Smith, a senior from Wahpeton, N.D.

He was restricted from that duty to make sure hamstring issues that have plagued him the last couple of years were completely a thing of the past. He said Bison head coach Craig Bohl told him to focus on his health first, and then maybe get some special teams work later in the season.

“Stay injury free for a few weeks,” Smith said. “He finally put me back there.”

Smith is the FCS active leader in career punt returns with 75 and yards with 868.

He was a second team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference return specialist in both his sophomore and junior seasons. He returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown last year against Youngstown State and did the same against South Dakota State as a sophomore.

Smith had his offseason workout routine adjusted to try and address the injury problems. He’s been getting even more treatments this year compared to prior years, he said.

“This is probably the best I’ve felt since my sophomore year,” he said. “I just kind of take it day by day. This is my senior year and I can’t be sitting around on the sidelines looking at everybody. I have to stay on the field.”

NDSU finds depth with Littlejohn on sidelines

NDSU will most likely get another knee injury victim back on the field today at Indiana State. Linebacker Carlton Littlejohn, who did not make the trip to last week’s game at Southern Illinois, returned to practice full time this week.

He was out with an MCL strain.

“You want to stay on the field and help the team as much as possible, so going down is always hard,” Littlejohn said. “It’s not fun knowing you can’t help them physically.”

He did his best to help mentally, watching game film with fellow linebackers. It was the first time the junior from Minneapolis sat out a game in his career after playing in 34 straight games.

Junior Esley Thorton started in his place and it appears he earned his way into the linebacker rotation. Linebackers coach Steve Stanard said Thorton graded out at 92 percent last week at Southern Illinois, a performance that included four tackles.

“Esley has put himself in position and deserves to be on the field,” Stanard said. “He’s playing good football right now.”

Etc. etc. etc.

- Today’s telecast is the Missouri Valley Game of the Week with Mick Shaffer doing the play by play, Danan Hughes with commentary and Sara Dayley with sideline reports.

- Running back Shakir Bell, whose career was ended this week because of injuries according to the team, finished just 123 yards short of becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher. His 4,124 yards left Vincent Allen (1973-77) remaining as the leader.

- ISU freshman receiver Sampson Levingston had an interesting game against Youngstown State. He had two receptions, but scored three touchdowns with one of them taking it into the end zone after a lateral from another receiver.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at 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.