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NDSU junior Plank made the most of his opportunity at middle linebacker

FARGO--It was one of his first days on campus when Matt Plank saw the North Dakota State defensive playbook. He likened it to the thickness of a college textbook.

NDSU junior linebacker Matt Plank sets his sights on Charleston Southern quarterback Kyle Copeland during the season opener last Saturday. David Samson / The Forum
NDSU junior linebacker Matt Plank sets his sights on Charleston Southern quarterback Kyle Copeland during the season opener last Saturday at the Fargodome. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO-It was one of his first days on campus when Matt Plank saw the North Dakota State defensive playbook. He likened it to the thickness of a college textbook.

To a true freshman, it probably looked more like "War and Peace."

"Coach (Steve) Stanard, who was the original linebackers coach, slapped down a 200-page playbook and I'm like, 'Is this history class?'" Plank said. "What's going on? But it's gotten easier over the years."

The playbook was easy enough for the junior middle linebacker to make a difference in Saturday's 24-17 overtime win over Charleston Southern (S.C.) at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. Plank was pressed into action for the first time in his career when starter Nick DeLuca went out with a shoulder injury on the first play of the second half.

The Bison have not been real generous with backup minutes over the last few years at linebacker, but there was no going back with Plank. He delivered with six tackles, including a critical stop in overtime, combining with linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker to stop running back Mike Holloway for a 1-yard gain.

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"Everybody wants their shot to let everybody know that I may be the second-string guy, but there's not going to be a talent drop-off," Plank said. "I can make the play."

It forced a third-and-9 and two incompletions later, the Bison were celebrating a season opening win on national TV.

It was a reward of sorts for a guy like Plank, now in his fourth year in the program from Gardner, Kan.

"Everybody comes in as a freshman and thinks they're going to start," he said "Who's Grant Olson? That's my spot, I'm taking that spot. It's a reality check when you get here because there are a lot of great players and a lot of great people ahead of you."

Olson was the senior captain when Plank redshirted. Carlton Littlejohn moved to the middle for his senior year in 2014 and DeLuca assumed control last season. DeLuca is questionable for the Eastern Washington game on Sept. 10 and the fact a 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker got the shorter end of the stick with contact with a smaller back like Holloway was somewhat surprising.

"It's football. Even the biggest, the strongest, the baddest dudes get hurt," Plank said. "And that's no knock on Nick. We hope he recovers quickly and we know that he's a tough guy."

Plank played in 15 games last season and finished with 21 tackles and one forced fumble, mostly in a mop-up role. His night as a starter against CSU didn't exactly start off with a bang. He and Gee-Tucker did stop Holloway for a 1-yard loss early in the third quarter, but Holloway broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run on the next play.

"The pursuit angles are what cost us that touchdown," Plank said. "But we came to the sideline and everybody was pretty calm. They were all like, 'We believe in you.' The coaches said they believed in me."

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DeLuca is being held out of practice this week and his status for next week will be determined at a later date. Meanwhile, that huge-looking playbook as a freshman has shrunk substantially for Plank.

"Sticking it out through that fall camp, I knew this is the place where I wanted to be," he said.

NDSU junior linebacker Matt Plank sets his sights on Charleston Southern quarterback Kyle Copeland during the season opener last Saturday. David Samson / The Forum
NDSU junior linebacker Matt Plank (44) assists teammates Jarrod Tuszka (93) and Pierre Gee-Tucker (47) in stopping Charleston Southern's Saire Davis during the season opener last Saturday at the Fargodome.David Samson / The Forum

Related Topics: COLLEGE FOOTBALL
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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