NDSU linebacker DeLuca expected to return

By Jeff Kolpack

Forum News Service

FARGO — A week off from preparing to play an opponent helped North Dakota State University heal the usual assortment of minor injuries. More important, the Bison got some clarity with a nagging medical mystery that kept their fan base on edge for two weeks: What is wrong with Nick DeLuca’s knee?

The senior linebacker underwent a successful surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus, head coach Chris Klieman said Monday. His status as to when he’ll return to the lineup is still not clear, but it’s expected to be this season. It won’t be Saturday, Sept. 23, when the Bison host Robert Morris University (Pa.) at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.

“At some point in the future, whether that’s two weeks, whether that’s four weeks, we’re at least optimistic,” Klieman said. “And each day we’ll find out a little bit more on how he can do after running and stuff.”

DeLuca is expected to begin light running this week, Klieman said. He was hurt in practice four days before the Bison took on Eastern Washington on Saturday, Sept. 9. DeLuca made the trip and warmed up with the rest of his teammates, but did not play.

“It was obviously touch and go the first three or four days when we really didn’t know a whole lot until they were able to get in there and fix it,” Klieman said. “We believe he can possibly have an opportunity to play. We’re hopeful.”

His absence means junior Dan Marlette will start at middle linebacker and junior Levi Jordheim will start at an outside linebacker spot. It’s the first time for each player that they will spend an entire week on top of the depth chart. Senior Matt Plank is backing up Marlette and sophomore Aaron Mercadel moved into the backup spot behind Jordheim.

Marlette and Jordheim were both productive in the 40-13 win at Eastern Washington. Klieman said backup receivers Dimitri Williams and Dallas Freeman and starting fullback Brock Robbins will have a chance to play this week after missing time with various injuries.

It will be the third meeting with Robert Morris, a private school out of Pittsburgh that plays in the Northeast Conference. NDSU won 43-17 in the first round of the 2010 playoffs — the first Bison postseason game ever in the Fargodome — and 52-0 in the 2012 season opener.

The Colonials are 2-1 beating the University of Dayton 13-10 and Virginia Military Institute 23-0. The loss was 30-0 at Youngstown, a game that was 16-0 heading into the fourth quarter.

“They have the right formula — good special teams, good defense and they run the football,” Klieman said.

The Bison retained their No. 2 ranking in the Division I FCS top 25 coaches poll. The Missouri Valley Football Conference has three in the top five with South Dakota State at No. 3 and Youngstown at No. 5. The Valley begins play Saturday with one game — Illinois State at Missouri State — with the rest starting in two weeks.