UND assistant coach Shawn Kostich pulled Graham DeVore aside this summer to give him a heads up.
Head coach Bubba Schweigert and defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt were kicking around the idea of playing DeVore at defensive end this season along with tight end and fullback. So, if it happens, be ready to play both ways, Kostich said.
"Yeah, I was surprised," DeVore said. "Happily surprised."
DeVore, a 6-foot-4, 234-pound sophomore from Grant, Minn., will indeed be used on both offense and defense this season.
After spending his redshirt and freshman seasons at tight end and fullback, DeVore practiced for the first time as a defensive end Friday morning as UND opened its 2019 fall camp.
"I kind of feel like a freshman again," DeVore said. "It's kind of funny. Right now, it's a little hectic, but it's fun. It's a good challenge and I'm looking forward to it."
There are three big reasons for the change.
1. New offense dictates changes
UND's new offense under first-year coordinator Danny Freund isn't as heavy on tight ends and fullbacks, so DeVore wasn't seeing the field a lot during spring ball.
"We were a big tight-end personnel team in the past," defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt said. "Now, you look, and there are a lot of those guys standing around at practice because of what we're doing offensively. I think it's one of those things where we've always done a good job saying, 'Hey, if there's a guy that can help our football team by going to the other side and getting reps, we do that.' You can go way back to Kyle Norberg, who came to use as a linebacker and ended up being our starting tailback.
"I think it's a good move for our team. I really think Graham can help us (at defensive end). He's a strong, physical kid. We always felt like, on defense, he was probably the most physical guy we were going against at tight end in the past, along with Luke Fiedler. It made sense, when you watched his skillset and his demeanor. I'm excited to see what he can do."
2. Ott unable to play
An injury sustained last season will keep promising defensive end Zeke Ott from playing this season. He's no longer on the roster. That has opened up a spot on the defensive line.
"In the spring, we didn't have an idea of where we were at with Zeke," Schmidt said. "We were pretty confident that Zeke was going to be able to make it back, but that just didn't happen.
"We felt like instead of going to try to take a transfer in the summertime, which a lot of times there's risk involved in getting the right person, we just decided that the best guy is probably on our roster right now and might only be playing 30 percent of the offensive snaps."
3. A natural position
At Mahtomedi High School, DeVore played both defensive end and tight end, but he thought defensive end would likely be his college position. He was more comfortable at that position and enjoyed it more.
When DeVore attended UND's football camp in the summer of 2016, he played defensive end. The coaching staff asked him to do a few things at tight end.
When UND offered DeVore a few weeks later, the coaches said they wanted DeVore as a tight end.
"I was kind of surprised, because that whole camp, I had done defensive end mostly," DeVore said. "But I was happy about it. Getting the opportunity to play here has been really fun. I've made a lot of good friendships. It's really fun to be on the field, too."
DeVore will be on the field a lot during fall practice.
He will get reps on both offense and defense. When he's on offense, he's expected to be used as a fullback more than a tight end.
"When he's in the offensive plan, those practice days he'll be in the offensive meetings and there should be some recall there," Schweigert said. "Early on, we really want to give him an opportunity to learn the defense, so early on, he's going to be with the defense and that's how he's going to learn the best this fall."
Schweigert said DeVore has several attributes that should lead him to success on the defensive side of the ball.
"He's an explosive player," Schweigert said. "He really can come off the ball. He plays physical. That's why he was a fullback for us in the past. He's going to continue to be that for us. We just feel like he can get more plays and help the team more if we put him in another role, so that's what we decided to do."
In the meantime, Schmidt will gladly take him on the defense.
"I think every day is going to be a learning experience for him," Schmidt said. "The one big thing with him is that he wants to do this. Sometimes, when you give guys a positions change, they feel like they're not going to play and they get discouraged. But when they see that this is going to get them on the field more on Saturdays, they get encouraged. I think that's where he's at right now.
"He's dove into everything we've been teaching him. He'll still go back to offense, at times, when they want to do some things in the run game and when we use certain personnel stuff with more tight ends on the field. But in the meantime, if he progresses and can learn our stuff, he'll have an opportunity to play some defense."