Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
The defensive line is the epicenter for physical play on every football team. The Bison defensive line has the strength and grit to go blow-for-blow with any offensive line in the country, but what makes these big bellied bruisers attractive is the way they go about their business.
The Bison defensive line position group isn’t very good at holding the rough and tough perception of football players off the field. Nose guard Nate Tanguay is one job away from becoming the next big New York Times movie critic while defensive tackle Brian Schaetz is more likely to crack a joke within minutes of meeting him than he is of telling you how much he can squat.
This attitude ripples through the position group so much that they started calling themselves the Alley Cats around the same time NDSU started winning national championships. That’s no coincidence.
Defensive tackles coach Nick Goeser is in his sixth year at NDSU and he said he doesn’t mind the shenanigans off the field as long as his players are producing. And they are. The Bison have only allowed one running back to go over 100 yards on them this season.
“There’s not a lot of arrogance in that room,” Goeser said after the Bison drubbed Western Illinois 59-7. “All those guys in that room are good friends. All those guys, when they’re not on the practice field, a lot of those guys are hanging out with each other.”
In the middle of it all on and off the field is the lone senior, Schaetz. He came in as a walk-on with four other defensive tackles in 2011. He’s the only one remaining from that recruiting class.
Goeser noted his toughness out of high school and how his desire to work has made him a staple in the starting lineup since Leevon Perry went down with a knee injury in 2012 and it continued again before the 2014 season.
“He’s played with a chip on his shoulder,” Goeser said. “I give him a lot of credit. He could’ve gone to some other places where maybe financially it would have been a lot easier, but he worked hard and he’s built himself up to be a tremendous person and really a tremendous player for us.”
Schaetz plays mainly the three technique, lining up between offensive guards and tackles. Goeser says he has the best combination of athleticism and strength, which has led to his seven and a half tackles for loss this season.
From the first day of camp in 2013, Goeser could see they had a potential star in Tanguay. His toughness and physicality at six feet four inches and 285 pounds was put on hold for Bison Nation that first year.
Tanguay was uncaged for the first time against Iowa State last year, starting his first game as a redshirt freshman.
He started at the nose, generally lining up on either side of the center. This position makes him susceptible to double-teams that he takes on with great fury. Goeser credits his violence at the point of attacks to why he’s found success so early in his career.
But where he’s made the biggest improvement, says Goeser, is his enhanced mental approach to playing defense.
“He studies film and he knows what offenses are going to do before the ball is snapped and that allows him to make some plays,” Goeser said. “He’s come to a point now where the game is starting to slow down and it’s starting to be a lot easier for him.”
Tanguay collected 12 tackles in the first game of the season against Montana, which has attracted more double-teams than ever for the sophomore.
Defensive coordinator Matt Entz noted another growth spurt from Tanguay.
“He’s become a true leader of the group right now. One of those guys you always hear in the background getting guys going, even at practice getting on some guys,” Entz said. “That’s a real positive for us right now.”
As the season has progressed, more and more defensive linemen have become a part of the defensive line rotation. Redshirt freshman Aaron Steidl has emerged as an impactful back up for the Bison to go along with sophomores Grant Morgan and Bryce Messner.
Against Western Illinois, junior Austin Farnlof, who has had an injury-riddled career, made his first career unassisted tackle during the fourth quarter. The Bison were already up 52 points and most of the crowd had filed out to their cars, but the Bison bench erupted. The celebration for Farnlof was led by Tanguay and Schaetz, among many other defensive starters that were taken out of the game.
“That’s what we hope Bison Pride and Bison football is all about,” Goeser said. “We don’t care if it’s a first string guy or fifth string guy making plays. We hope everybody is genuinely excited for that young man.”
Make no mistake about the intensity of Division I football. The defensive line position group has found the rare formula of competing at a high level while having fun and slapping backs along the way.
“That’s what Bison Pride is all about – a genuine appreciation for everybody and I hope my group has that and I hope we continue that and it’s certainly great to see and it’s great to see that other people see that, too.”