The playmaker: If there's a will, there's a way to catch it for Urzendowski
He's the football version of the perfect soldier, does what he's called upon to do and doesn't appear to care if he gets the credit. RJ Urzendowski, perhaps, in a prior life was a member of the Greatest Generation that served—and didn't ask questions.
Need a block downfield? He's your man. Need a catch on the sidelines that requires him to go horizontal to the turf? Look no farther. Need somebody to go over the middle? There is no fear.
And, for the North Dakota State football fans, probably the most important: Need a big catch in a clutch situation? They know the answer to that one.
"He's one of those guys that when the ball's up in the air, he has the ability to find it and make those plays," said receivers coach Atif Austin. "It's hard to explain."
Those plays have come at a rather steady pace over the years. It's probably not a Hall of Fame pace, but enough to where you can rank them.
"I've made some big ones in the past and hopefully will make some big ones in the future," Urzendowski said, "so overall it's been an awesome experience and I look forward to finishing out the year."
It's certainly debatable with the criteria being a moving target, but here is a best-guess top 5 of Urzendowski receptions in order of importance and/or style points:
• Jan. 10, 2015, Frisco, Texas. The Bison were facing third-and-10 at the Illinois State 38-yard line and NDSU had just called a time out with 57 seconds remaining in the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium. In the huddle, the Bison called a play that Urzendowski figured was going to be targeted to him. "I remember Trevor Gebhart telling me to go make a play," Urzendowski said. "So I wasn't nervous, but I had a good idea the ball was coming to me. I don't remember once the play started what happened but it worked out." What happened was quarterback Carson Wentz, facing an all-out blitz from the Redbirds that Urzendowski said the Bison expected, flung a high lob down the left sideline that Urzendowski tracked down for a 33-yard gain to the 5-yard line. It was a play Urzendowski said "kind of defined my career." Wentz scored on the next play and the Bison won the FCS championship 29-27.
• Dec. 6, 2014, Fargodome. A 3-yard touchdown pass to Jake Wieneke gave South Dakota State a 24-20 lead with 3:18 left in the game in the FCS quarterfinal playoff game. Starting from its own 24-yard line, the Bison began their drive with a 13-yard run by John Crockett. Facing second-and-goal at the 12, Wentz went back to pass and zipped a rocket to Urzendowski in the back corner of the end zone just over the outstretched hands of a SDSU defender and into the leaping arms of Urzendowski. "It was one of our red-zone calls we practice throughout the week," Urzendowski said this week. "Just with the man coverage I knew it had potential once we called that play. I saw the look on the line and I knew there was a good chance I would be getting the ball and Carson delivered a perfect football."
• Jan. 10, 2015, Frisco Texas. Before the long 33-yard pass to Urzendowski against the Redbirds, the true freshman hauled in a 32-yard pass over the middle that got the Bison out of a first-and-15 situation from there own 17-yard line. Wentz first looked right, then spotted Urzendowski over the middle with 1:28 remaining. Urzendowski followed that with another catch for a first down.
• Oct. 14, 2017, Youngstown, Ohio. This one was more based on difficulty than importance of the moment, but the 16-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Easton Stick in the second quarter was a one-hand, left-handed gem from the right-handed Urzendowski. "Amazing, that's all I can say about that," Austin said. "Amazing. He gets on the field, the ball is up in the air and he finds a way to bring it down." It was no lob pass from Stick, either, who flung a Wentz-like bullet to the back corner of the end zone where only Urzendowski could get it. "I don't know how he caught it," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "But I also understand that if it's in the area, RJ has a chance."
• Oct. 8, 2016, Springfield, Missouri. The Bison were trailing 3-0 and not moving the ball in the first quarter at Missouri State. On first down at their own 9, Stick went back to pass in the end zone and flung a long pass down the left sideline toward Urzendowski. He tipped it with his left hand back into his body and grabbed it for a 43-yard gain. "He tipped it back to himself," Austin said. "It's just unbelievable the things he can do."
In many instances, Urzendowski appears to be defying the laws of athletic ability. He's made plays normally reserved for receivers 6-foot-3 or taller—those lean guys with long arms who possess a wide wing span.
"His body control, he has great strength and unbelievable concentration," Klieman said. "That's the neat thing. Even though he's 6-foot, he's over 200 pounds and can lean into people. That's the thing he has a great knack of doing, he can lean into somebody and RJ or Easton will both realize I'm going to throw this back shoulder, open up my hip and have great concentration."
And, certainly, it doesn't hurt that his quarterback was high school teammate. Stick has been throwing to Urzendowski since high school. They played baseball and basketball together since grade school.
"He's going to make plays if you give him a chance," Stick said.
He's moving up the charts. Urzendowski is the sixth player in program history to surpass 2,000 receiving yards. He's fifth in career touchdown catches with 19 and seventh in receptions with 129. He's caught a pass in 45 of 51 career games, including the last 11 in a row.
"The last four years have flown by," Urzendowski said. "This season has flown by and I can remember coming in like it was yesterday. It's been a heck of an experience."