From Oriska to Division I, UND linebacker fights for playing time

GRAND FORKS — Corby Richman is from Oriska, N.D., a town of a little more than 100 people located 11 miles east of Valley City along Interstate 94.

“It’s really small,” Richman said. “There’s not a lot of paved roads or anything like that.”

Coming out of Maple Valley High School three years ago, Richman didn’t have a single scholarship offer from a college football program of any level.

His only option was a walk-on opportunity at NCAA Division II Minnesota State-Moorhead.

“I told (Moorhead) I was going to call (the University of North Dakota) and see if they had a spot,” Richman said. “They said I could have a chance to make it, but I wasn’t guaranteed a spot.”

As No. 10 UND prepares for a Week 3 Top 25 showdown with No. 23 South Dakota on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Vermillion, the Fighting Hawks have listed Richman as No. 2 on the depth chart at strong side inside linebacker.

In the hierarchy of college football, there are scholarship players, then preferred walk-ons and finally walk-ons who join the team at the start of college classes when rosters can expand.

Those school-start walk-ons aren’t guaranteed a place on the team. They’re often longshots for ever leaving the scout team.

“I think he’s one of those guys that it really meant a lot to him to go to school and play football here,” UND defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt said. “He’s really unselfish and humble. He’ll help out in any way he can.”

Richman isn’t cracking the depth chart on any old FCS defense, either. UND has annually been one of the best defenses in the Big Sky Conference under fourth-year head coach Bubba Schweigert. The unit is coming off a 34-0 blanking of Missouri State in Week 2.

Richman, whose brother James was a walk-on for the UND men’s basketball team from 2013-15, has kept his place in the two-deep depth chart in perspective.

UND has suffered a string of injuries at inside linebacker. Connor O’Brien, a 2016 starter, retired in the offseason due to injuries, while Cam Hunt, Noah Larson and Donnell Rodgers have all gone down at the inside backer position.

Rodgers suffered a leg injury in last Saturday’s 34-0 win over Missouri State. He’s out indefinitely.

“It’s nice, but it’s all because of injuries,” said Richman, who’s 6-foot and 240 pounds. “Donnell is a really good player, and I wish it wouldn’t have happened.

“I just want to keep helping the team out as much as I can.”

UND has started to use Richman in goal-line situations to utilize his toughness and tackling ability.

“He’s a smart guy,” Schmidt said. “He’s picked up our stuff. He’s a self-made guy … he was never guaranteed anything. He’s worked hard, hung around and good things have happened to him.”