North Dakota State’s Greg Menard was all set to break some sack records last year, until his season ended before it began. A knee injury in the first week of fall camp forced the former Lakeville North star to take a redshirt season.
Those records are back in his sights now.
“It really didn’t seem like he missed a beat,” Bison offensive tackle Zack Johnson said recently. “We do 1-on-1s a lot. It’s crazy to see he’s already back. Doesn’t really feel like he’s missed that much.”
Menard, a 6-2, 240-pound senior defensive end, had 24 sacks in his first three years with the Bison, including back-to-back double-digit sack seasons in 2015 and 2016. And he’s 1-for-1 this fall.
Before the Bison opened play earlier this month, Menard said he wanted to “fly around and get those first-game jitters out of the way.” There were no signs of rust in that opener: Menard registered another sack as NDSU dismantled Cal Poly 49-3.
Menard working toward a strong ending to his career in Fargo is one of several story lines that make up this trend: Minnesota high school football stars continuing their success at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
Two of Menard’s Bison teammates with Minnesota roots were selected as preseason FCS All-Americas: Johnson, from Blaine, and senior safety Robbie Grimsley, from Hutchinson.
Eighty miles away from Fargo, North Dakota running back John Santiago (St. Francis High School) led the FCS with 1,780 all-purpose yards to earn AP All-America first-team honors in 2017. He’s showed no signs of slowing down this fall, topping 420 total yards in two games — including 260 total yards against a top-10 team in Washington.
Out East, Princeton wide receiver Jesper Horsted (Roseville) set school receiving records last season — 92 catches, 1,226 yards, 14 touchdowns — in the Ivy League. He’ll try to beat his own marks when his senior season begins Saturday.
“It’s great to show what Minnesota football has to offer,” Menard said. “A lot of guys felt slighted that they didn’t get a chance to play for schools like the Gophers or other places in the Big Ten. That’s how some guys fuel themselves.”
Menard’s motivated now in a different way. He wants to show he’s the same player who was projected to be an All-America selection for the third straight year last season before blowing out his knee last August.
Grimsley emerged as the star on NDSU’s defense last year minus Menard. It was a role he was familiar with in high school. He won Minnesota Mr. Football in 2014, but he had zero offers from Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs.
“Coming out of high school, I was 178 pounds,” the two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference player said. “That turned off a lot of FBS schools. A big thing coming here was they allowed me to play sooner. It helped me a lot getting that experience and those reps right away. I got bigger as I got older. I ended up being roughly the same size as those FBS guys.”
Bigger, faster, better ... but still a long way from being Hutchinson’s most famous sports alum. Grimsley knows he’ll never be bigger than recently retired Lynx WNBA champion and Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen.
“When you win gold medals, it kind of ups your reputation a little bit,” Grimsley said with a chuckle. “I’m trying to get my name out there a little more.”