Tough times for JirikSpring football has a way of causing North Dakota State’s title last season to fade away. At defensive end, Cole Jirik saw the highs and lows of the winter months.
By: By Jeff Kolpack, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Spring football has a way of causing North Dakota State’s title last season to fade away. At defensive end, Cole Jirik saw the highs and lows of the winter months.
In early January, he was part of a stout defensive effort in the championship win over Sam Houston State. One month later, he lost one of his friends in an automobile accident that is still emotional for him.
Lauren Peterson was one of four NDSU students who died in a crash near Alexandria, Minn. Jirik later wrote on Twitter that stretch of Interstate 94 will never be the same to him again.
For healing, football is a good start. Especially on this team, which Jirik said had a team chemistry last year “of something I’ve never been a part of like that.
“Everyone on the team, even if they didn’t like someone, still got along with them. It was a different feeling, and the camaraderie was really something else.”
A junior next fall, Jirik is part of a new band of leaders emerging on defense that will be loaded with talented juniors and sophomores. Around 17 players who were part of a regular rotation in some fashion return. Only strong safety Bobby Ollman, defensive end Ricky Hagen, cornerback Aireal Boyd and linebacker Brandon Jemison will be seniors. And of that group, Jemison started five games and Ollman three.
The list of returnees does not include freshman cornerbacks Jordan Champion and Zach Colvin, who are both threats to make the two-deep chart.
“I feel like I have to take a leadership role now,” Jirik said. “We have a lot of young kids playing on the team, so I feel like I’m old enough to step up and take on a role like that.”
In Jirik’s case, he’s slated to start opposite Kyle Emanuel at the defensive end positions. Their mission is to make the absence of departed senior Coulter Boyer not as noticeable.
Boyer led the team in quarterback sacks with nine, quarterback hurries with 10 and tackles for lost yardage with 12.5. Jirik wasn’t far behind with seven quarterback sacks, seven quarterback hurries and 10.5 tackles for lost yardage.
Expected to see a bigger role this spring at the ends are Hagen and sophomore Mike Hardie.
“Just being able to rotate like we did last year was nice,” Jirik said. “Their offensive linemen would get wore down and we were able to throw new guys in there and stay fresh the whole time, and that was a huge advantage for us last year.”
Jirik is up to 250 pounds and recently ran a 4.79 40-yard dash. He was 215 pounds as a redshirt freshman.
That kind of growth is also evident in the defensive tackles and noseguard spots, where juniors Leevon Perry, Justin Juckem and Ryan Drevlow will all return. The Bison lost spot player Scott Stoczynski in addition to Boyer.
“We lost some key players from that team, so we’ll change a little bit,” Jirik said. “But we want to pick up with the momentum we had last year.”
Kolpack is a sports writer at the Fargo Forum