Hankey primed to man middle linebacker spot for the Bison

FARGO — North Dakota State linebacker Jackson Hankey walked off the artificial turf at Team Makers Athletic Fields at a recent practice and shed his shoulder pads. He always envisioned this is where his football career would lead.

“I’ve always been a Bison fan,” said Hankey, from Park River, N.D. “My goal since as long as I can remember was to play for NDSU. I never really wanted to play anywhere else. To see that kind of come to reality is a bit surreal at times.”

The current reality for the 6-foot-1, 220-pound sophomore is he’s risen to the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker for the Bison, entering his third season in the program.

Hankey played in 14 games during his redshirt freshman season last fall, finishing with 27 total tackles. Now, he’s expected to be a key player in the heart of the Bison defense.

“He’s definitely established himself and I’m really pleased,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said. “He’s good around our team. He does a great job of leading by example. He gets guys going and he’s critical to our success this season.”

Hankey was a multiple-sport standout at Park River High School, graduating in 2017. He was a four-year starter on the football team, playing on two North Dakota Class 1A state championship teams. Hankey was also a six-year letter winner in baseball.

He was a walk-on who committed to NDSU after the 2017 signing day class was announced.

While Hankey is on track to be the starter at what NDSU calls its “mike” linebacker for the season opener Aug. 31 against Butler at Target Field in Minneapolis, his focus hasn’t changed.

“Regardless of where your name is on the depth chart, everybody has to come out and prove themselves every day. Nobody’s spot is too safe,” Hankey said. “I’ve got the same mindset I’ve had every camp since I was a (true) freshman.”

Hankey has played behind the likes of middle linebackers Nick DeLuca and Dan Marlette since he joined the Bison program. DeLuca is now in the NFL and Marlette was the senior starter on last season’s Division I FCS national championship team. Hankey said former Bison linebacker Levi Jordheim also helped in his development.

“I owe a lot of gratitude to those guys. Nick, he was here when I was a (true) freshman. He certainly didn’t have to take time out of his day to teach me the things that he did. He really gave back to the program in that way,” Hankey said. “I can’t say enough about what Dan Marlette taught me, about what Levi Jordheim taught me. Those guys always took the time when I asked a question.”

Bison linebackers coach Grant Olson likes the leadership Hankey has shown in fall camp. Olson added Hankey is a strong, physical player who is really good at defeating blocks. Olson also played middle linebacker for the Bison from 2010-2013.

“I think the biggest thing that he does so well is he makes other people around him better,” Olson said. “He gets everybody on the same page.”

Hankey likes the direction he’s received from Olson, who is in his first season as linebackers coach at NDSU. Olson was also a student assistant coach for NDSU in 2014.

“I think he’s a really intelligent guy,” said Hankey, who remembers watching Olson when he was a player for the Bison. “He’s well spoken and he’s a good teacher and he’s very blunt and honest and forward. I appreciate that type of communication.”

Olson said Hankey fits the NDSU “mike” linebacker mold, which Olson describes as “tough, competitive leaders who play their tail off.”

“I think he’s just the next guy in a long line,” Olson said.