The first round of the FCS playoffs has come to a close, but there is a familiar team sitting atop the bracket with the No. 1-overall seed.
North Dakota State is playing in its 10th consecutive FCS postseason. In that time, the program has accumulated a 32-2 record and won eight FCS National Championships. The Bisons’ mark would not have been accomplished without establishing a unique culture, one that has created fear among their peers in the FCS.
Plenty of talent has come from the program with notable alumni such as Carson Wentz, Easton Stick and Billy Turner. The same is the case this year with linebacker Jabril Cox and standout freshman quarterback Trey Lance. But the most intriguing NFL prospect from this group is defensive end Derrek Tuszka.
He has yet to gain national recognition, but in FCS circles, he has garnered plenty of attention. Tuszka’s talent extends beyond the playing surface. It can be traced back to Warner, South Dakota. It has a population of just over 500 people. Warner is one of the smallest cities in the entire state, but a big talent was hidden within it.
Tuszka was the driving force at Warner High School and one of the best players in school history. He was a four-year varsity starter and hardly ever came off of the field.
The former Warner star established himself as the best player in the area, but Tuszka also had to balance off-the-field activities that included an interest in airplanes.
In Tuszka’s small town, he witnessed everything from harvesting crops to tending livestock, but what peaked his interest the most were the airplanes spraying pesticides and fertilizer over the multitude of crops.
Tuszka received his pilot’s license his sophomore year. He had satisfied his off-field accomplishment but his work on the gridiron somehow surpassed that. After a 12-0 record, the Bison were once again favored to win their ninth FCS championship.
Their defense was led by the 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end who was recording his best season yet. Tuszka recorded career highs in tackles for loss (15.5) and sacks (10 1/2). He was voted Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and still holds the conference record for sacks with 26 1/2.
He has already accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18, and with his team poised to begin their march towards another title, Tuszka has a chance to become a household name as a late-round option for the 2020 draft.