If you talk to University of North Dakota offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph or wide receivers coach Danny Freund, they would probably use the term “catch radius” to talk about Noah Wanzek’s ability to catch everything in sight.
Fighting Hawks quarterback Nate Ketteringham doesn’t use the technical terms.
“The kid is spiderman,” Ketteringham said. “He sticks his arm out and catches anything.”
UND’s junior wide receiver has developed into a true go-to target as the Fighting Hawks (5-3 overall) prepare for a 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, matchup with Idaho at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.
Wanzek, a three-year regular out of Jamestown High School, is averaging more than 72 receiving yards per game, an average that would rank in the top six of the Big Sky Conference -- if the Hawks were still officially in the league.
This production comes despite a run-first offense, one that has had considerable second half leads for half of its games this season.
Nearly all of the Big Sky receivers with more production this year come from pass-first offenses, like Idaho State and Eastern Washington.
“I think a lot of it has to do with confidence,” Wanzek said. “Each year, all the work and all the time you spend in the weight room and running routes, give you confidence. I’m more confident on the field and have a little better grip on what it takes to be a better receiver.”
One of Wanzek’s career-best 10 receptions in the loss to Weber State came on a diving 22-yard touchdown grab that was later named the No. 2 play of the week in the FCS.
The highlight-reel catches have been a Wanzek staple. As a true freshman in 2016, Wanzek quickly wowed teammates with acrobatic grabs early in the year against Bowling Green and South Dakota.
Wanzek was a late addition to his recruiting class, a known commodity in basketball circles but not so much in football.
When Wanzek was a senior in high school, the UND coaching staff was watching another recruit play basketball when Wanzek’s athleticism stole the show.
As a North Dakota Mr. Basketball finalist as a senior, Wanzek was considering college basketball at his hometown University of Jamestown. But although his two older sisters went to North Dakota State, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play football at UND.
This offseason, Wanzek and classmate Travis Toivonen spent a lot of time at the High Performance Center catching passes from quarterbacks Andrew Zimmerman and Ketteringham.
“A lot of it has to do with foot speed, doing jump ropes and ladders,” Wanzek said. “I knew the playbook, so I came in here and did a lot of running.”
With UND wide receivers Toivonen and Izzy Adeoti sidelined with injuries last week, Wanzek’s consistent production was even more important.
His lowest yardage production this season came Oct. 20 with three catches for 54 yards against Sacramento State, a game UND easily controlled and stuck to the ground game (a UND Division I record 480 yards rushing).
Wanzek has become UND’s second-best wide receiver in the Division I era, only behind former star Greg Hardin in terms of career touchdowns and receiving yards.
The toughness of Wanzek has also caught the attention of his teammates. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, he’s now 25 pounds heavier than three years ago.
“That kid will sell out his body for anything,” Ketteringham said. “He’s the kind you want on your team. He doesn’t care about getting hurt. He’s going for the ball, and he’s going to catch it.”UND at Idaho
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Kibbie Dome, Moscow, Idaho
Radio: 96.1 FM
Records: UND 5-3; Idaho 3-5
Of note: Idaho is 3-0 all time against UND