National championship to mark 61st consecutive start for NDSU's Dudzik
FARGO, N.D. -- North Dakota State free safety Christian Dudzik has started every game in his college career, a feat that's believed to be unmatched in Division I football and one that has earned him the run of his boss's office.
"Every morning I go up to the office, I get done with the staff meeting or something, I come in, there's Christian sitting at my desk with his feet up, watching game film," said coach Chris Klieman, who considers the standout senior somewhat of an assistant coach. "I work around him."
And Dudzik never misses a day of work. The 5-foot-10, 191-pounder from Omaha, Nebraska, is slated to start his 61st consecutive game Saturday in the Football Championship Subdivision title game against Illinois State. NDSU will try to become the first team to win four consecutive championships in what was formerly known as Division I-AA.
"College football is a mentally and physically demanding sport, for sure," said Mike Kern, associate commissioner for the Missouri Valley Football Conference, home to NDSU and Illinois State. "To play in that many games, let alone start all of them, is just unfathomable."
No official records are kept for game participation, but to play 60 games during four years is challenging simply because of team schedules. Teams in the Bowl Subdivision rarely play 15 games in a season. Linebacker Pierre Banks played in a Division I-AA-record 62 games for Appalachian State, which was also afforded a lot of games by winning three consecutive titles, but started only 47 of them.
Bison defensive end Kyle Emanuel has played in all 60 games, with 53 starts. NDSU has four other seniors who have played in at least 50 games.
Dudzik shrugs his shoulders when asked about the secret to stability.
"Luck, I guess," he said. "I have been healthy and fortunate not to have any major injuries to keep me out of the game."
His willingness to adapt kept him in the game his freshman year. His natural position is safety, which he played on the scout team during his redshirt year, but he was asked to fill a void at cornerback in his first year of eligibility. He returned to safety as a sophomore.
"I had never played corner before that first season, but I just wanted to play so I was completely fine with it," Dudzik said. "There was a time when I was probably satisfied with just being a starter. As I grew as a player and a person I realized it was a competition with myself to just get better, and try to make the players around me better."
Dudzik ranks third all-time at NDSU with 150 solo tackles. He has 253 total tackles, 13 interceptions, five fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles. He has returned 35 punts, two for touchdowns, and 14 kickoffs.
Dudzik said he prefers this number: NDSU is 57-3 in his career.
"We have never as a team talked about the [starting] streak. It was more about winning each game," he said.
It's not that Dudzik hasn't played with pain. He suffered a deep thigh bruise against Iowa State and a shoulder sprain against Northern Iowa. Even after the long break from the team's Dec. 19 semifinal win against Sam Houston State, he is still feeling the wear and tear of a fourth straight long season.
"You just don't feel as good as you did at the start of the season," he said.
Dudzik has six credits left for a double major in sports management and philosophy, and he has thoughts of going to film school. First, however, he is going to North Carolina for six weeks to train for an NFL pro day. However that goes, he will always have the ironman streak to look back on.
Much of Dudzik's durability is due to good conditioning and technique, said linebacker Carlton Littlejohn, a senior who has played in 58 games.
"He plays the game the right way," Littlejohn said. "If you do that, you'll play 61 games."