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Wanzek's stock on the rise at UND

North Dakota Fighting Hawks wide receiver Noah Wanzek (31) attempts to make a catch against Utah on Aug. 31 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY Sports

North Dakota wide receiver Noah Wanzek doesn't take plays off, no matter the stakes.

Bill Nelson, Wanzek's former coach at Jamestown High School, recalled a time when his senior star once lined up in the backfield with the scout team offense while preparing for a game against Bismarck Legacy in 2015.

"I looked back and No. 1 (Wanzek) is sitting back there at tailback," Nelson said. "I told him, 'Get outta here.' But that's the kind of kid he is. He could never get enough."

Wanzek turned in his best performance thus far with the FCS Fighting Hawks this past Saturday. The sophomore hauled in seven receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns—all career-highs—in UND's 34-0 Potato Bowl trouncing of Missouri State.

"I guess I had a pretty good game," Wanzek said modestly. "Over the offseason I learned our other two receiver positions. It's a little bit more responsibility, but I think I've learned it pretty quickly and it's been fun running some different routes."

After having his freshman redshirt pulled in training camp last fall, Wanzek played in all 12 of UND's contests and was primarily used as a perimeter threat, posting 25 receptions for 367 yards and three scores. But he said he's being asked to be more of a complete receiver this season, with work in the slot and over the middle of the field.

His breakout performance certainly won't go unnoticed by opposing defenses moving forward. But the 6-foot-4 Wanzek appears up to the challenge.

The 10th-ranked Fighting Hawks (1-1) are coming off a 9-3 season that saw the team share the Big Sky Conference regular season title with Eastern Washington. UND is at 23rd-ranked South Dakota (2-0) this Saturday in Vermillion, S.D.

The Fighting Hawks clawed out a 47-44 double overtime victory against South Dakota last season.

"We're obviously feeling pretty good right now coming off a win," Wanzek said. "We have a tough challenge on Saturday, and we'll see kinda where we're at. Hopefully we'll make some strides here this weekend."

Coach Nelson certainly isn't shocked to see the weapon Wanzek has potentially become for UND. He believes the best is yet to come.

"I'm not surprised," Nelson said. "He's just a tremendously humble kid that success is never gonna get to his head.

"He's going to go back out there like he's never been on the field before and he's fighting for a position. That's just the way he is."

But one thing probably is ancient history: Wanzek's days at practice-squad tailback.

"I guess it was just the love for football," Wanzek said. "I always wanted to be in there doing whatever it took to make the team better. It's just fun to play football—any position."

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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