North Dakota State fullback Zak Kuntz, from Grand Forks, is following in his father's footsteps both athletically and academically. Kuntz's dad Mike played linebacker at the University of North Dakota in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


FARGO — As a principal architect for ICON Architectural Group based in Grand Forks, Mike Kuntz has worked on some of the area’s sports landmarks like Ralph Engelstad Arena, Scheels Arena and the Fargodome.

When it came to the dome, the project required him to do some research on the tradition and history of North Dakota State football.

In the next four years, he’ll get a personal tour of Bison football. His son, Zak Kuntz, is a redshirt freshman fullback who is expected to see the field in some capacity this season. It promises to be a lot of green and yellow for the father who played the college game in the kelly green and white at the UND.

He’s a former all-conference linebacker for the University of North Dakota.

“Family is stronger than anything else,” said Mike, who is a former all-conference linebacker at UND.

The obvious question is how does the son of a former UND great dare go to the rival school. But the No. 1 answer is rather basic: Zak is an architecture major who wants to follow his father’s footsteps in the real world. NDSU has a nationally-reputed architecture program.

“So NDSU was just the right fit overall with football, academics, location and people,” Zak said. “It was all perfect for me. To be honest, my dad was supportive of the whole process.”

Mike said he generally let his oldest of six children handle the recruiting process. He said that’s just the way Zak is built — a deep thinker who does well academically and is driven to succeed.

“We enjoyed watching him go through it,” Mike said. “It’s a heck of an opportunity to play for that program and we just fully supported him.”

So did Mike’s friends in Grand Forks and former teammates, whom he said recognized what it takes to get to that level of football. NDSU and UND were Division II programs during Mike’s career that ended in 1993.

Both are Division I FCS programs now that are nationally ranked. They are slated to play a non-conference game in 2019 and will both will be in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020 when UND joins the league.

“It’s a big rivalry and everyone will always jab and poke,” Mike said. “But I think for the guys that have gone through it and really know how competitive it is and how hard it is to get to that level, it’s good for him and we will always support him.”

Kuntz is the third Bison player from Grand Forks in the Division I era, joining center Hugh Medal (2004-05) from Central and linebacker Tyler Gefroh (2011-12) from Red River.

Zak, also from Red River, is a classically-built NDSU fullback at 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds. Sophomore Garrett Malstrom is the physical, bruising blocker and sophomore Brock Robbins is more of the multi-use fullback/tight end who may see the ball more this year.

Kuntz sees himself as somewhere between those two.

“We all have our unique skill sets,” Kuntz said. “You have to be going 110 percent at all times. You have to be in control but you can’t let off the throttle. It’s more than just running through people. The problem for me is keeping my pads low. I have a lot of things to work on and it’s a challenge for sure.”

Kuntz is also a prime candidate to be one of the “shield” blockers on the punt team and for one of the spots on the kickoff return team. Players consider being one of the three shield blockers in front of the punter as a marquee special teams job, a badge-of-honor of sorts because of its tough-guy image.

“It’s a tough job but, I mean, anything to get on the special teams units and find my role on the team,” Kuntz said.

Mike Kuntz had a big role on the 1993 UND team that had a breakthrough season for the program. North Dakota reached the semifinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs and broke a 12-game series losing streak to NDSU in the regular season.

Times have changed for the family, however, and all eyes this season will be on NDSU.

“I’ve seen film of his days and he was a pretty impressive guy,” Zak said. “He was a lot smaller than me and he always reminded me of that but I’ve always looked up to my dad.”