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UND’s deep end group understands their role – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – The tight ends, which UND uses primarily as blockers, were highly productive stars in high school.

Jack Ihry ran more than 5,100 meters at Hope-Page High School in North Dakota. Jaden Norby ran for more than 1,300 yards in West Central Area-Ashby, Minnesota. Trae Steckler was a basketball and football star at Mandan. Max Gunderson threw for more than 2,100 yards at Detroit Lakes.

However, the role of this group in AND is different. Those four are usually asked to protect Fighting Hawks quarterback Tommy Schuster and open holes for AND running backs Tyler Hoosman and Isaiah Smith.

“I tend to do the dirty work, and that’s what I can do to help the team,” said Steckler. “At the end of the day, that’s probably rather blocking. But you have to accept this role and perfect your craft.”

AND fans will likely see each of these tight ends on Saturday when the Fighting Hawks open the FCS playoffs at 3 p.m. against Weber State in Ogden, Utah.

These tight ends accepting these roles are vital to a program.

“The biggest thing for offense is team first, they’re team first guys,” said AND offensive coordinator Danny Freund. “They are ready to take on any role to improve the team, whether it’s special teams or blockers. Whatever it is, they work hard and understand the importance of football as a team sport.”

Adam Zavalney has been AND’s pass-catching tight end for the past two seasons. This year he has 17 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

The Fighting Hawks will play quite a few tight ends, but the others haven’t played much into the passing game this season. Nordby has two 34-yard catchers, Steckler has a 3-yard catcher, and Ihry has a 2-yard catcher.

“It’s always difficult because there’s football,” said Freund. “You try to maximize your potential. But the main thing is that you need people who trust the coaches, take their role and develop as football players. What you see on offense is a bunch of guys who are selfless and do , which is best for the team and sometimes not best for themselves. But they’ve been tough with it mentally, and it’s fun to see guys this year as coaches embrace that team-first mentality.

For example, Steckler has been there for five seasons. He caught his first career catch two weeks ago at the Alerus Center against South Dakota. It was a first-down take on a script.

It was a script former offensive lineman Matt Waletzko ran once against Idaho State, and current offensive lineman Donny Ventrelli also ran that year. Waletzko and Ventrelli were flatmates with Steckler.

“I texted them and said I was coming in because you guys couldn’t,” said Steckler. “I got first place and did what I could for the team.”

That’s an issue for Steckler, who has accepted his position with the Fighting Hawks.

“Ultimately, the transition from high school to college is about embracing your role,” said Steckler. “You have to take that role, show up every day and good things will happen. It’s a great reward for me. The work I put in for five years is paying off. It’s about biding your time, head down and work the best you can.”

The Hawks are entering the matchup with Weber State looking for the program’s first Division I road playoff win.

“It’s a good opportunity for us and it’s a test and we’re ready for that test,” said Steckler. “We’re going to have fun this week, train as best we can and give it our all.”