- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - There are plenty of reasons to pick six for the North Dakota State Bison.

The five-time defending Football Championship Subdivision winners return six full-time starters on offense and eight starters, as well as several other players with starting experience. They also bring back most of their statistical leaders on offense and defense, including their top five rushers, top two receivers, top two kick returners and top four tacklers.

Bison head coach Chris Klieman said during Wednesday’s media day festivities that his team is further ahead than he expected, but coaches are looking for depth at defensive back and wide receiver.

“There are red flags every day we go out there, there’s no question about that,” Klieman said. “You’re always trying to look and see who’s improved, who is getting more and more of the playbook locked in.”

Although standout quarterback Carson Wentz completed his eligibility and was drafted No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bison are again expecting regular visits from NFL scouts. According to Klieman, nearly every NFL team has already inquired about middle linebacker Nick DeLuca, who led NDSU with 135 tackles a year ago.

Asked how DeLuca is looking after three days of practice, the head coach said, “Like an all-American.”

DeLuca said he’s trying to enjoy his senior season and keep his pro prospects on the back burner. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Omaha, Nebraska, said he was paying attention to the way Wentz handled the NFL exposure.

“He was kind of the poster child for NDSU there for a while,” DeLuca said. “He represented himself in such a great way and in such a good manner. I’m just trying to kind of follow his footsteps.”

DeLuca isn’t the only returning Bison with impressive numbers. Linebacker MJ Stumpf collected 81 tackles and recovered four fumbles last season. Safety Robbie Grimsley had 68 tackles and two interceptions. Defensive end Greg Menard notched 15 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.

On offense, the team returns its leading rusher in King Frazier, who ran for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns, and its leading receiver in RJ Urzendowski, who caught 48 passes for 669 yards and six touchdowns. And there’s the electrifying Bruce Anderson, who averaged 36.6 yards per kickoff return, including two returns for TDs.

“We’re in a better position now than we were last year,” DeLuca said. “Just being able to come off a season where we have a lot of returning starters is great and we’re trying to move on from there.”

The Bison have been grooming Wentz’s replacement for two years. Sophomore Easton Stick roomed with Wentz as a redshirt freshman and went on every road trip even though he didn’t play. Last year, when Wentz went down with a wrist injury, Stick stepped in and went 8-0.

“I think we have a lot of guys who are talented and motivated,” Stick said. “I’m looking forward to my new role.”

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