FARGO, N.D. – North Dakota State has its share of recruits who have turned down feelers from big-time schools, but the top-ranked Bison have built their program into a Football Championship Subdivision power partly by developing players from the B-list.
Brian Schaetz is a prime example.
Schaetz is a junior nose guard who grew up on a dairy farm near Denmark, Wisconsin, not too far from Green Bay. He didn't attract much attention from college coaches, perhaps because he played somewhat out of position at running back and middle linebacker. He also preferred wrestling as a high school student.
The Bison liked the work ethic of someone who woke up early every day to milk cows and they asked him to walk on.
"Quite frankly, and he'll tell you, he wasn't an A-list guy," said offensive coordinator Tim Polasek, who recruited Schaetz. "The opportunity to see him was interesting. Immediately I said, 'I don't know what the kid is, but he's something.'"
Schaetz was singled out by coaches for his play last weekend when the three-time defending FCS champions opened the season with a 34-14 victory over Iowa State for NDSU's fifth straight win over a Bowl Subdivision team. Schaetz had four tackles, including one for lost yardage, and played nearly every snap on defense.
"The guys in the interior held their own," NDSU coach Chris Klieman said. "Brian Schaetz played really well."
Schaetz said his first meeting with Polasek was memorable, if only because the first thing the Bison coach noticed about him was his hands. Big and powerful, and they showed the grit of someone who spent every morning and early evening performing chores.
"He looks at my hands and tells me I have more callouses than he had ever seen in his life," Schaetz said.
Schaetz quickly developed from a recruit Polasek "took a swing on" to a key contributor. Schaetz took Polasek's advice to "start eating right now" and beefed up from 248 to 268 pounds when he reported to the Bison. After sitting out his first season as a redshirt, he wound up starting four games as a freshman. He also became NDSU's emotional leader and human alarm clock.
At his first fall camp, Schaetz was usually the first player in the breakfast line because he getting up at 5 a.m., dairy farm time.
Polasek said Schaetz initially thought the other players hated him because he worked so hard, when in fact it motivated his teammates as well.
"A guy who's on the fringe learns to jump in pretty quick with guys like Brian. That's typical of North Dakota kids and Minnesota kids," Polasek said. "A dairy farmer to me is a little special. They work their tails off for not very much, a bunch of hours, and it's dirty work."
Schaetz, an only child, ran the farm by himself for about five months during his junior year in high school while his dad recovered from ankle surgery. While it helped him gain an appreciation for the vocation, it also led him to set his sights on a college education.
"It was a life-changing experience," he said. "It made me really want to go to college. I knew I needed to work hard at football and work hard in the classroom."
Schaetz is majoring in agricultural economics. While he might not return to the dairy farm, he's says he's grateful for his upbringing and his family's support of his football career. His dad doesn't attend many of his games because of the business.
"One day I want to help farmers," Schaetz said. "I've seen enough of them suffer."