When Noah Larson was at Baraboo High School in Wisconsin, the UND sophomore linebacker attended prospect camps across the Big Ten -- Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.
UND, however, was his only Division I scholarship offer.
There are a few theories as to why he was under-recruited, despite a two-way all-conference senior season in which he ran for 1,572 yards.
“He’s probably not going to run a great 40, although it’s still pretty good,” UND defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt said. “He’s also a little different as a swimmer in high school. Maybe some guys on the mat in wrestling or on the court in basketball get a better evaluation because football coaches can see it translate more.”
As the 2019 season nears, Larson has already started to fulfill the UND coaching staff’s adamant belief from years prior that they’d snagged an under-recruited gem and the Big Ten had missed the mark.
Larson was slated to have his redshirt removed in 2017, despite playing inside linebacker, a physically demanding position not often targeted for rookies to see the field early in their careers. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds out of high school, Larson had a rare college-ready build.
A dislocated kneecap, however, would prevent Larson from showcasing his skills in his first season on campus.
But as a redshirt freshman starter in 2018, Larson racked up 64 tackles to finish second on the team. He also had five tackles for loss and two sacks.
Those 64 tackles are better than any freshman season for UND’s top linebackers in the Division I era, including Will Ratelle, Dan Hendrickson and Garrison Goodman.
Ratelle and Goodman each had 25 tackles as freshmen, while Hendrickson had 18.
Schmidt said Larson’s natural combination of strength and athleticism allowed him to succeed early in his career.
“He was exactly what we thought he was going to be from the moment he stepped on campus,” Schmidt said. “He plays with natural pad level and knee bend. He doesn’t stay blocked.”
Larson’s dad and uncle played football at UND. His dad, Scott, was a running back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. His uncle, Greg Deyak, was Scott’s college roommate and a tight end for the Fighting Sioux.
“It’s in his DNA, more than anything else,” Schmidt said. “Early on, he played off instinct. Linebackers have a lot of learning to do. That’s always the issue for young guys. It takes reps to feel confident. But for him, it was all about effort and instinct.”
UND returns a strong Two Deep for inside linebackers in the Fighting Hawks’ 3-4 alignment. Larson and 2018 leading tackler Donnell Rodgers are expected to start, with Tyron Vrede and Cam Hunt locked in as experienced backups.
“The competition is really good right now,” Schmidt said.
Jaxson Turner looked like Predator...from the movie Predator.@UNDfootball defense strips the Idaho QB and forces a fumble fumble in just the third play of the game as Noah Larson recovers and gives UND the football early in the game.#UNDproud #LiveForGameday pic.twitter.com/bQa7TtoelP— UND Insider (@UNDinsider) November 3, 2018
Despite a breakout freshman season, UND’s coaches still see room to grow for Larson, who also receives praise from his coaches for a soft-spoken demeanor.
“I’m getting to learn the defense a little better, and it’s easier when you know what you’re doing,” said Larson, who added he wants to improve his pass coverage.
Larson was asked Monday during UND’s fall camp whether he felt he was under-recruited and over-looked out of high school.
“Maybe,” he said. “But I did my best, I got here, and I’m happy about it.”