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UND FOOTBALL: Dylan Bakker takes path from Amsterdam to Fighting Hawks' leading tackler

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--Dylan Bakker grew up in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where football doesn't have the same support it does in the United States. "No one cares about it," Bakker said. "You practice twice a week. You're happy if 10 people show up to p...

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-Dylan Bakker grew up in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where football doesn't have the same support it does in the United States.

"No one cares about it," Bakker said. "You practice twice a week. You're happy if 10 people show up to practice."

Those raw football beginnings are a long way from where Bakker will be Saturday. The senior inside linebacker will enter a Big Sky Conference showdown against Southern Utah at 1 p.m. at the Alerus Center as the leading tackler of the league-leading UND Fighting Hawks.

"It's my last year so it's all or nothing," Bakker said. "It's good that I've ended up in this role. I'm trying to do the best I can to help the team."

Bakker started playing football when he was 14. He said there's probably about 20 teams across all of the Netherlands.

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"It's just a core group of guys who really like the sport and you feed off of each other," Bakker said.

Bakker wanted to take his game to the next level and play NCAA football, but he said it was difficult for a European player to land at a four-year school, even though he had good grades.

"I investigated a lot and talked to people about playing in the U.S.," Bakker said. "I started to look around the country at jucos. I emailed a lot of them."

One of his emails came back with a positive result and that landed Bakker at West Hills Community College in Coalinga, Calif.

Most of the players at West Hills were from out of state and Coalinga had a population less than 17,000. That combination, Bakker said, meant players could focus on football.

"There wasn't much else to do," he said. "It was great. There were no distractions. We focused on football and got some extra lifting."

Bakker was named the team's defensive MVP following his sophomore season and was also named to the All-California Region 2 First team and All-Golden Gate Conference First Team.

After his junior college experience, Bakker started to search out four-year schools.

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"It went slow at first," he said.

UND defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt first heard Bakker's name through a recruiting service, who vouched for Bakker's skills.

"We talked to a lot of guys who said he was the right character kid for Grand Forks," Schmidt said.

Bakker took two visits, one to North Dakota and one to Stony Brook.

Bakker came to UND for the 2014 season, but Schmidt said his learning curve was too steep to play immediately so a redshirt year was used.

"Good thing we did because he really has contributed for us over the last year and a half," Schmidt said.

As a junior in 2015, Bakker appeared in seven games and finished with 26 tackles, including 5.0 for loss.

Bakker became a starter this year and has a team-high 40 tackles. He's second on the team with 20 solo stops. He also blocked a kick last week against Sacramento State.

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"He's athletic," Schmidt said. "We knew that Day 1 when he got here. He's gotten better and better the more reps he's got. He's one of those guys you've always felt was a good football player but we had to give him time to be in the program a couple of years to know the ropes. What he's doing on the field isn't surprising anybody."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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