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Radunz remains focused on graduation, then the NFL

Will continue to train in Fargo with the Bison with graduation scheduled for December
Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 4:23 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - While a large majority of the college football community is turning its attention to a spring season. Bison redshirt senior offensive lineman Dillon Radunz has other plans this spring.

“It’s heartbreaking. Cried a lot of tears, cried a lot but I have the opportunity to continue playing football,” Radunz said Wednesday. “So I get to keep preparing. The excitement is still there for me.”

The buzz has been growing around the NFL prospect for some time and his senior season was an opportunity for the Becker, Minnesota native to build up his resume and increase his draft stock.

“It was probably a year ago the scouts really started to take notice of Dillon,” NDSU head football coach Matt Entz said. “We have every NFL team, we are on their travel list, on their itinerary and they make numerous trips a year. I would bet a good year ago they started asking about our left tackle.”

With those visits came conversations, feedback and praise for his athleticism.

“My strengths are I’m athletic, I can run around,” Radunz said the scouts have told him.

His head coach agrees, Matt Entz said his athleticism is something everyone is excited about when they see him in action. Adding his work the last year on diversifying his game will only continue to help him at the next level as well. Radunz took snaps at center and guard this last year and expanded his abilities and his awareness on the front line.

On the other end, Radunz said he’s been working on building up his playable strength, his hands and his footwork. The lost senior season is a lost opportunity to show some of that growth.

Still, Radunz has 31 starts under his belt and two years of All-American honors, even after missing a season with a torn ACL. While an extra season on the field could have helped him, the missed season will not hurt his stock as many of the other top tackle prospects in this years draft are in conferences that also postponed the fall season.

The Road to the NFL

Radunz has been preparing for his NFL opportunity from the moment he got to campus. Even before he believed it was a possibility.

“When I was getting recruited out of high school I was so blind,” Radunz laughed at the memory. “I was just a blind kid enjoying high school honestly and then I got an offer to play college football and I was like, ‘Ok!’ It made up my mind.”

Entz recruited Radunz himself. Defensive coordinator at the time, Entz was responsible for recruiting the Minnesota area and remembered many trips to Becker.

“We had a the feeling early in the recruiting process that even when he first stepped on campus that this young man had a chance to be mentioned with some of the other really, really good offensive lineman that have come through here,” Entz recalled.

His coaches at Becker High School saw his potential too. Telling him they couldn’t wait to see him play on Sundays.

“I was like ‘what are you talking about?”, Radunz recalled. “Coming out of high school I had an idea, but I was really just here to play football because I love playing football.”

He was a two-year starting left tackle for Becker. The program was back-to-back Minnesota Class 4A state champions in 2014 and 2015 with a 25-1 record over the two title-winning seasons. Individually, Radunz was a Top 10 finalist for Mr. Football award in Minnesota and worked a line for a team that rushed for 3,091 yards and passed for 2,251 yards with 77 touchdowns in 2015.

“I still contend Dillon could have been a starting three-technique for the Bison if we hadn’t moved him to offensive line, with the tools and the things that he showed out of high school and coming to camp,” Entz said of Radunz out of high school. “That’s how athletic this young man is.”

Radunz would redshirt his freshman year with the Bison before being tapped as a starter in his first year on the field. He would be sidelined with a torn his ACL that year after 15 snaps in the opening game against Mississippi Valley State.

None of that derailed his path.

Named a starter after recovering from his injury he said he committed to giving it his all. He started all 15 games at left tackle for Conor Riley’s offensive line. Through 11 regular-season games he played 626 snaps with 27 knockdowns and three sacks allowed. Blocking for the No. 1 rushing attack in the Missouri Valley Football Conference that averaged 286.2 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry. The Bison also led the conference and were Top 10 in FCS for fewest tackles for loss allowed and sacks allowed.

Before the season was over though, Radunz and his teammates were faced with a coaching change as NDSU head coach Chris Klieman accepted the head coaching job at Kansas State. He would take Riley with him to Manhattan, Kansas and the Bison offensive line would see it’s first coaching change in more than five years.

“You’re sad to see someone go but it’s very valuable,” Radunz reflected. “You get to deal with a coaching change one, and you also get to deal with two different personalities and two different coaching styles. It allowed me to realize what a coaching change would look like. It allowed me to realize my mind would have to adapt to the new coach.”

Enter AJ Blazek.

Blazek came to NDSU after three seasons in the Big Ten as the offensive line coach at Rutgers, where he was also the assistant head coach his final two seasons.

The line wouldn’t skip a beat in Fargo.

In his junior season, Radunz was named first team All-American by the Associated Press, AFCA, STATS, HERO Sports, FCS Athletic Directors Association, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Phil Steele and Athlon Sports.

“What a great career he’s had,” Entz raved. “He’s been a physical, dominate player since the day he walked on campus. Extremely intelligent football player that understands the game.”

He started all 16 games at left tackle, playing 682 snaps with 63 knockdowns and zero sacks allowed through the 12 regular season games. The program long famous for its run game would set a school-record for rushing 4,601 yards.

“They say it’s pretty rare for a coach to last more than three years on an NFL team,” Radunz said. “You’re going to go through it if you plan on having a long career in the NFL so just that coaching change in college is very helpful for me. We learned a lot from it, definitely benefited from it and it’ll hopefully be super beneficial for me in the future.”

Once a Bison, Always a Bison

The 6-foot-6, 300 pound lineman hasn’t cleaned out his Bison locker just yet.

“As of now I am still a Bison,” Radunz said. “We don’t have a plan laid out, completed yet.”

Part of that is the clarification still needed from the NCAA. NDSU and every other program is waiting for details and plans about how they can proceed with the fall still. Bison head football coach Matt Entz and a couple of his current players spoke Monday with the media and referenced the frustration in waiting for these answers.

For Radunz it is about protecting his scholarship and getting his education -- meaning he hasn’t signed with an agent yet. He’s been interviewing them and doing his homework, talking to former Bison and picking the brains of his coaches. But until the NCAA provides a clear answer, Radunz said he won’t sign anything.

“I cannot sign with an agent until after my college football season is over but that’s where the gray area comes here,” Radunz explained. “Cause it’s like, my football season is over but I’m pursuing my academic career and that’s what I want to finish first. So I’m not going to sign on the dotted line if you’re going to take my scholarship away because my academics is more important than going and training somewhere because I can just stay here and train with [NDSU strength coach Jim] Kramer anyway.”

Radunz is set to graduate in December with a degree in industrial engineering and management.

While the particulars need clarification from the NCAA, the support remains from his Bison coaches. Entz detailed several transparent conversations he and Radunz continue to have as he said he assured Radunz there is a place for him to train with the Bison.

“I know he’s had conversations with Coach Blazke, myself and Tyler Roehl about, is as long as we continue to have skill development practices, well this is as good as anything, as far as training goes,” Entz explained. “For him to continue to work and stay in shape, he’s getting as much work done here as he would anywhere else.”

Radunz will return to campus later this week to focus on that development but he added how important it is to also help his teammates and the future of the program in anyway he can.

“I’m going to do whatever the coaches need me to do but ultimately they are looking out what’s best for me. So if I can go train somewhere else they’re going to allow me to do that.”

Brotherly Love

The future is bright for Radunz and he admitted the opportunities in front of him have helped ease the loss of his final season in Fargo. The one thing he won’t get back, is a final season on the field with his younger brother Nick.

“Very heartbreaking. But I was able to coach him up during fall camp, had that opportunity and I still got to play some football with him again,” Radunz said. “I won’t take that for granted.”

Nick began his college football career at North Dakota State College of Science where he started 21 games and earned NJCAA All-America first team honors. Nick earned a spot on the Bison football team this fall and the two were set to be reunited for a final season on the football field.

“My mom was the first one that cried,” Dillon Radunz remembered. “But after Coach Entz told us we weren’t going to have a season, we were in the Fargodome and me and my brother stayed after the meeting. We cried and hugged it out. After winning state championships with him and then potentially going to play college football with him, it was huge for our family.”

“It’s a life lesson, we can’t take any snap for granted. We have to be able to enjoy every bit of it.”

Copyright 2020 KVLY. All rights reserved.

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