Steidl goes from running back in Alex to defensive tackle at NDSU

Alexandria senior Aaron Steidl has a sheet above his door at home that has two goals written out on it – to play Division I football and to do that on scholarship.

The first one of those has been crossed off his list after signing with three-time FCS national champion North Dakota State University on Wednesday. The latter will be something he works toward over the coming years. Steidl committed to the Bison as a preferred walk-on over Division II scholarship offers from Bemidji State University and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Aaron Steidl takes a breather between plays during a game against Sartell-St. Stephen from this past fall. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

How he got to the point has been quite a transformation. Steidl started his varsity career in Alexandria as a running back that weighed 175 pounds as a sophomore. Almost three years later, he has transformed his body to where the coaches at NDSU recruited him as a defensive tackle.

“If I look back on my sophomore year, I would never think I would be a defensive tackle,” Steidl said on Wednesday. “I weighed 175 my sophomore year as running back. I remember the first game against Willmar, I was so pumped because I got a start and I’m running with Stephan Morical and all those other backs. Then two weeks later, [head coach Mike] Empting moved me to defensive line telling me I was too slow to play running back. It was a downer at the time.”

Steidl even played quarterback on the freshmen team during his 9th-grade season. From quarterback to running back, tight end, defensive end, interior lineman – Steidl has played all over the field for the Cardinals.

“Taking handoffs as a sophomore, to tight end as a junior, and because of necessity, he played interior offensive line for us this year and played defensive end for us,” Empting said. “He’s a football player. He did a lot of things for us.”

Life as a running back is a little more glamorous for high school athletes. Steidl said he used to pray that he wouldn’t grow taller than 6’3″ because he knew that would be the end of his days in the backfield.

“Now I wish I wouldn’t have done that because I am 6’3″ and I stayed there,” he said. “My junior year I was only 198 pounds, still skinny. Now this year, I don’t know where it came from, but I just put on 75 pounds. I know I’m a lot different from those days of playing running back. I still got to run the ball a little bit this year. That felt good, but defensive line is definitely a better fit now with my body.”

Steidl currently weighs around 265 pounds. He said the coaches at NDSU want him to play at around 290. If recent history is any indication, he should have no problem getting up to that weight.

He’ll use a redshirt season next fall and knows he has almost three years to get there before he hopes to earn some reps on the field as a redshirt sophomore. Steidl plans on gaining that weight while still leaning on some of the athleticism that he used during his days as a running back.

Steidl battles with an offensive lineman from Sartell playing from the defensive end position during Alexandria’s game against the Sabres on September 6, 2013. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

“I know my recruiting coach said that our defensive linemen aren’t big and slow, they’re big and quick,” Steidl said. “Then he’s like, ‘The defensive ends, they’re going to be even quicker than you’…what he said is our defensive tackles won’t take up a lot of blocks. We’ll do a lot of hands work, pushing, driving, which is nice.”

Steidl knows none of this will be easy, but it’s a lot of hard work and early mornings in the weight room that took him from 175 pounds as a sophomore to where he is today. That allowed him to cross off that first goal he had written on his list above his door. Now as a walk-on with the best team at the FCS level, he will use a chip on his shoulder to try and get on the field and earn that scholarship over the next handful of years.

“It’s definitely a work ethic,” Steidl said. “I know a lot of people are going to say, ‘Oh, you’re just going to be a walk-on.’ I could have taken money at Duluth, but I’m not going to let money make my decision. That’s just going to push me even more to think that this guy here is getting a bigger scholarship than me. I can prove myself to the coaches that I can be better than him.”