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DeLuca has all the tools as he begins his senior year with the Bison

FARGO--It wouldn't have happened like this when he was a freshman, and probably not as a sophomore when Nick DeLuca became North Dakota State's middle linebacker in the 2014 FCS playoff run. Now a senior, he looks and acts the part.

Nick DeLuca takes a breather during Bison football practice Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, at North Dakota State, Fargo.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Nick DeLuca takes a breather during Bison football practice Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, at North Dakota State, Fargo.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO-It wouldn't have happened like this when he was a freshman, and probably not as a sophomore when Nick DeLuca became North Dakota State's middle linebacker in the 2014 FCS playoff run. Now a senior, he looks and acts the part.

Not only because he's 6-foot-3, 245 pounds and runs a 4.7-second 40-yard dash-three factors that have him on the NFL scouting radar-but that intangible every defensive coordinator wants to hear.

"The leadership role," DeLuca said. "Definitely it's a bigger priority. I'm a senior now and I'm trying to embrace that and get better every day."

NDSU started practice on Monday, but Wednesday's Media Day was more of an unveiling to the public of this year's team. Head coach Chris Klieman said in somewhat of a state of address in the early going that the veterans have performed well, the tempo of the practices have been good and it helps having all of the assistant coaches return for another season.

The defensive coaches probably have it best with eight returning starters including all three linebackers.

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DeLuca, for one, has that senior confidence.

"His knowledge of football," said defensive coordinator Matt Entz. "He's one of those uncanny players that can see something drawn on a board and he has it. It's not a rep thing for him. And he has that uncanny natural feel for the game. Unbelievable vision for a young man and unbelievable hands for a big kid, maybe some of the best hands on the team."

Knowledge. Feel. Vision. Hands.

It's part of the resume.

It appears some scouting publications are already paying attention. Cbsports.com has DeLuca ranked 11th in its evaluation of the top available inside linebackers, a somewhat rare distinction for an FCS player to be that close to the top 10. The next FCS player in the rankings is Southern Illinois' Chase Allen at No. 27.

In a way, DeLuca is picking up where linebackers of Bison Division I past left off. When DeLuca was a freshman and sophomore, it was Travis Beck, Grant Olson, Esley Thorton and Carlton Littlejohn who taught him the ways of the FCS world.

A special teams phenom, especially on kickoff coverage, he was thrust into the starting lineup two years ago when Beck was sidelined for the season.

"They showed me the ropes, they put the tradition within me," DeLuca said. "I kind of got thrown in there and I think that taught me a lot. I learned some things the hard way at first but I also think it developed me quicker than might have been planned."

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The development never stopped. He was far and away NDSU's top tackler last year with 135 stops. He tied a school record with 59 solo tackles.

His interception in the FCS title game against Jacksonville State was a key play that led to a touchdown in the 37-10 win and carries 32 career starts heading into the season opener Aug. 28 against Charleston Southern at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

On Wednesday, that seemed like a long way away for a senior going through his last fall camp regimine.

Certainly, it appeared the NFL talk wasn't much of a thought.

"It's my last year, I want to enjoy everything and take it all in," DeLuca said. "I just want to be the best leader I can be. This is my fourth time around and I'm going to try and fine-tune some things."

Related Topics: CHRIS KLIEMANFCS FOOTBALLMATT ENTZ
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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