NDSU’s Spencer Waege leads Bison at South Dakota State football game
Spencer Waege is the latest player to get caught in the middle of the Dakota Marker rivalry.
A sixth-year senior at North Dakota State, Waege is one of the best players on the FCS No. 1 team in the nation, an all-conference defensive end who will be tasked with slowing down Isaiah Davis, Mark Gronowski and the rest of the South Dakota State offense when the teams face off Saturday at the Fargodome.
He’s also a kid from South Dakota, originally from South Shore who played for the Watertown Arrows before moving to NDSU. It was a tough decision, as Waege grew up surrounded by Jackrabbit friends and family, but now that the 6-foot-5, 280-pound has three national championship rings (four if you count his redshirt year), Waege has fewer problems. bring his relatives to support green and gold.
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Saturday’s game will be Waege’s last time competing for the Dakota Marker, and he left his mark there. Waege was named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference rookie team as a rookie and appeared in all conferences as a second and junior, earning All-America honors during the 2021 spring season when he had eight sacks in nine games.
Waege suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 3 of last season, and while it forced him to watch on the sidelines as the Bison returned to Frisco, he came back this year just as good. than ever, leading the Bison with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles.
Latest in a long line of South Dakotans to cross the border to enjoy a career in green (Dan Marlette, Trevor Gebhart, Preston Evans, Austin Kuhnert, Derrek Tuszka and Mike Hardie are among the others), Waege and the Bison will look to bring the Marker back to Fargo for the first time since 2019 on Saturday.
Q&A with North Dakota State Footballer Spencer Waege
Q: As a team, are the Bisons really excited about the rivalry and playing for the Dakota Marker Trophy, or is this more of an approach to another game?
A: It’s kind of weird, in that the coaches don’t give it much importance or make it bigger than any other game, but the players who have been here a while, they really amplify and really make it clear that this is not another game.
Q: How does it feel to be part of this rivalry? Did these games seem more intense, more meaningful to you?
A: Oh yes, absolutely. Mainly because we all know there’s a chance this won’t be the only time we end up seeing each other during the season. Everyone knows it’s special and there’s a little extra meaning to it.
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Q: How special is it for you personally to be a South Dakota?
A: It’s always a fun game. Many of my family members went to SDSU and graduated there. A group of my high school coaches were SDSU football alumni. So growing up, there was always an SDSU hype. When I got here, I think it shocked some people, but it’s something I don’t regret doing. I enjoyed my stay here.
Q: Was it hard to convince family and friends to root for green and gold?
A: I know for the first 2-3 years I was here, there wasn’t much – a lot of family members were still wearing their Jackrabbit clothes when we played against each other. Now, in the last two years, they’ve kind of flipped, at least just for me.
Q: Coach (Matt) Entz said as happy as he is the Bisons are 5-1, 3-0 in the Valley, he doesn’t think you’ve played anywhere near your best football yet. Do players feel the same?
A: Yeah absolutely. For the most part, we’re all kind of, I don’t mean disgusted, but not really happy with the way we played in our last game (a 31-26 win at Indiana State). For many of us, it was almost like we lost. We left a lot behind. We know we are not where we want to be. We didn’t even play close to the perfect game. Part of that is that young guys have new roles this year and that takes time. But I think every week we are making slow progress.
Q: What impresses you about the SDSU attack?
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A: They are certainly good at what they do. It feels like their running game, every year they find a way to have really good running backs and really good linemen up front. All of their positions – quarterback, running back, receivers, tight ends – they always have really talented guys in every spot.
Q: When it comes to defending your guys, what did you do well and what can you still do better?
A: There has been improvement throughout the season. The tackling I think from week 1 to now has slowly improved, but it’s still an area that needs improvement. There were times when we really got after the quarterback on third down. Our ability to stop the run has improved, but it’s really going to be tested this weekend.
Q: And you personally? Are you in perfect health?
A: I’m about as healthy as I can get in week seven of the season. I feel like I’m pretty close to my old self. There are things that I notice that aren’t quite the same, but there are things that I feel like I’m doing better than before I got hurt. So there are give-and-takes. But I think I’m close to being the old Spence.
Q: Was it hard going through that and waiting so long to get back on the pitch?
A: You know, when I tore my knee, people were like, you’re gonna come back stronger than ever and you won’t even notice it when you’re back at full strength. But what they fail to mention is how difficult that path back is and how much work it takes to get to that point. The ups and downs through the rehab process and the mental side of it, sitting there watching your teammates in close games, like SDSU last year, Missouri State, sitting there watching this and trying to find ways to be the best teammate you can.
Q: You’ve been here a long time now. How different are you as a player and a person compared to six years ago when you arrived?
A: It’s honestly kinda crazy, when I got here as a freshman I was playing D-end at 230 pounds and now I’m at 280 – I’m looking at pictures of me as a freshman and it’s like, ‘Holy smokes, what a change.’ But I really feel like I’ve matured in my six years here and really learned about football and a lot about life here and being around these coaches and players.
Q: Six years of playing for the Bison, all the national championships, awards and big games. How was the career you had?
A: It was awesome. I wouldn’t trade those six years for anything in the world. I’ve been very lucky to play in national championship games, win national championships and play in a lot of big games in general. That’s something if you asked me when I was in high school, I never would have dreamed of something like that. I feel extremely lucky to have had this opportunity.