Aaron Steidl was a preferred walk-on and a part of the 2014 recruiting class for North Dakota State. The Bison had just graduated three very productive defensive tackles, Leevon Perry, Danny Luecke and Ryan Drevlow. North Dakota State brought in three defensive tackles as a part of the '14 class to replace them, Steidl, Blake Williams and Brandon Hines.
Williams was one of the most sought after recruits of that class. The Bison signed Williams despite offers from FBS schools Akron and Eastern Michigan. Brandon Hines had an FBS offer from Army, but also chose a scholarship offer from NDSU. Steidl is the only one of the three defensive tackles from that class who was brought in as a walk on. Brandon Hines never played a down for NDSU, Williams is still part of the program but not yet part of the rotation and Steidl is making plays every Saturday.
At 6'2" and more than 265 pounds with red hair and a big red beard, Steidl is hard not to notice. It's also hard to not to notice how many snaps Steidl is getting. His sack on UND QB Keaton Studsrud opened the floodgates for a historical performance by the Bison defense. His performance is making head coach Chris Klieman notice, too.
"He keeps playing more and more. He gives Nate (Tanguay) and Brian (Schaetz) a good break in there and I was so happy for Steidl. We're playing a couple of redshirt freshmen and they're getting more and more snaps because they're getting more and more confident. As we get into Valley play, we're going to need all of those guys."
This concept isn't new for the Bison. Yes, the success of the program has led to improved recruiting. South Dakota's Joe Glenn has openly admitted that in the Valley, NDSU hand picks their recruits and then the rest of the league (Missouri Valley Football) gets their players. Even with all these improvements, the Bison would not be 4 time defending national champions without the strength of the walk-on program.
It's not just Steidl making plays out of the walk-on group. Left tackle Joe Haeg is not only the Bison's best offensive lineman, an All-American and a legitimate NFL Draft prospect, but also a former walk on. Steidl's battery mate at D-tackle, Brian Schaetz is another Bison athlete who pushed his way into a scholarship and a starting position. Freshman K Cam Pederson is walk on and so are "2-deep" contributors LB Levi Jordheim and FB Jedre Cyr.
Of course scholarship athletes like Carson Wentz, Nick DeLuca and CJ Smith are important to the program. Most of the "legends" of the championship era like Brock Jensen, Ryan Smith, Marcus Williams and Kyle Emanuel were scholarship athletes. Just don't forget the Danny Lueckes, the Derrick Langs or the Levi Jordheims. Walk ons compete with the scholarship athletes, that competition breeds success. Sometimes those walk-ons win those competitions and receive playing time. More importantly sometimes they receive scholarships.