Christian Dudzik wasn't content to just play free safety this season for North Dakota State.
The redshirt sophomore, who filled several roles during an All-Nebraska career at Omaha Skutt, wanted to show coaches what else he could do.
So he begged special teams coach Tim Polasek for a chance as a return man.
“He wasn't up for it the first few times I asked,” Dudzik said. “I kept asking and asking.”
Injuries finally gave Dudzik his chance. A breakout game against South Dakota on Oct. 20, which included a 76-yard punt return, helped earn him a backup role as a punt returner.
“I just wanted the opportunity,” Dudzik said. “I just felt I had the ability.”
Dudzik is one of several area players with prominent roles for the top-ranked Bison (13-1), who will play for their second straight Football Championship Subdivision title at noon Saturday against Sam Houston State (11-3) in Frisco, Texas. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Former Nebraska assistant Craig Bohl has led North Dakota State to three straight FCS playoff appearances.
Among the other local players who should see action are former UNO cornerback Bryan Shepherd, fullback Andrew Bonnet of Underwood High School in Iowa, Beatrice tight end Garrett Bruhn and Schuyler defensive end Kyle Emanuel.
Dudzik said it's been cool to play with many of the same athletes he competed against or read about while he was playing safety and quarterback at Skutt.
Bruhn's and Emanuel's parents make it to most games, just like Dudzik's. His parents, Ken and Mary, will be at Saturday's showdown along with younger siblings Kyle and Kara, who are both still at Skutt.
Dudzik, who has returned six punts for 133 yards and one kickoff for 26 yards, was named honorable mention All-Missouri Valley at safety. He piled up 52 tackles, including 26 solo, as well as two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Coaches, he said, like his physical play and speed.
While returning punts has been exciting, Dudzik said the highlight of the year was when he intercepted a pass on Missouri State's final drive to seal a 21-17 Bison win on Nov. 3. Emanuel was credited with a career-best nine tackles, including a sack, in the win.
Dudzik also blocked a point-after attempt and forced a fumble against Georgia Southern in the semifinals on Dec. 14.
Defense is the name of the game for the Bison, who lead the nation in scoring defense (11.4), total defense (223.3), pass defense (131.0) and first downs allowed (11.9). They are second in third-down efficiency defense (28.1). Dudzik is proud of the fact that he hasn't missed a meaningful snap, except once with a smashed thumb.
Dudzik said he'll do whatever it takes to defeat the Bearkats again in the title rematch. The Bison won last year 17-6.
“I think in order to do that, we have to play great on defense,” he said. “That's the only goal I have — just play great.”
Last year was a dream season after the Bison won their first national title. With several talented players back, Dudzik and his teammates knew they'd have another shot this season. So they worked like champions to show they belonged among the nation's elite programs.
A victory would make the Bison one of the few teams at any level to win back-to-back national titles.
“I think it would shine a great light at NDSU at a national level,” Dudzik said.
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