Nick Bendzuck: A Rewarding Journey to a Big Ten Scholarship
Feature from the Oct. 16 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.
Oct. 20, 2010
By Hannah Case, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Michigan State senior fullback Nick Bendzuck has always dreamed of playing Big Ten football. After his freshman year at Division II Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., he decided to reach for those dreams.
"I have always wanted to play football at a Big Ten school. And since that dream was still inside of me, I thought, `why not?'" said Bendzuck.
Originally from Strongsville, Ohio, Bendzuck transferred to MSU his sophomore year with every intention of playing for head coach Mark Dantonio. He immediately realized the two schools were different in more ways than just the size of the student population.
"Everything at MSU is a little bit faster and a little bit sharper," Bendzuck said. "It took some time to get used to, but like everything, you adjust."
Bendzuck's natural tendency to give it his all helped him adapt to the atmosphere of Big Ten football. Although he sat out all of 2007 because of transfer rules and played in just one game in 2008, he developed a role on the scout team during practice, being named Scout Team Player of the Week three times during those two seasons.
As a junior in 2009, Bendzuck earned his way onto the playing field as a member of the special teams unit, appearing in 10 games to earn his first letter. He entered his senior season looking to contribute on special teams and as a back-up fullback on offense. But everything changed on Sept. 4 in the 2010 season opener.
Fellow senior fullback Josh Rouse suffered a serious neck injury in the first quarter against Western Michigan, an unfortunate accident that has sidelined Rouse for the entire season. It was an emotional incident that initially rattled the Spartans, but eventually, has brought the team even closer. It also meant the team would now look to Bendzuck to fill the starting fullback position.
"You never want to see a good teammate and a good friend get hurt," said Bendzuck, who has played in every game this season, including starts against Notre Dame and Northern Colorado. "But in football they say you are always one play away. You never want an injury to be your opportunity, but when you are called upon you have to perform."
Bendzuck himself was injured last spring, so he understands how difficult it is when something important is taken away. Yet since that day, the relationship between Rouse and Bendzuck has been strengthened. From tips on the sideline to watching film during the week, Rouse has become his replacement's personal cheering section.
"He is probably my biggest supporter," Bendzuck said. "We have a good rapport and that is a credit to his character. Although he is injured, he is still in good spirits and puts the team first."
The fullback's "what have you done for me lately" attitude shows his determination to perform his best on every play. This mentality is one of the reasons Coach Dantonio offered him a full scholarship this year. When he heard the news of the scholarship, Bendzuck was surprised, but happy to know his diligence was being validated. He explained that the money was exciting; however, the respect and support he earned from his teammates was most important.
"I was speechless. I almost thought I was daydreaming until Coach D told me to sign the papers," said Bendzuck. "All the hard work, time, and effort I put in finally culminated into one big payoff."
The scholarship also brought another perk for him. No longer would he be located along "walk-on alley", a row in the locker room that's typically filled with walk-ons.
"I was there for three years and it's a tough spot to get out of," said Bendzuck. "Only a few can say they've moved on from walk-on alley."
Now that his dreams have come true and his time at Michigan State is closing in, Bendzuck recalls the message he gave in his memorable senior speech during preseason camp. Bendzuck emphasized to his teammates that they should respect every opponent, take the season one week at a time, and enjoy every day.
"In general, we look ahead in life too much," he said. "You might be so worried about an exam you have in three weeks, you won't remember what you learned today."
After graduating this December with a finance degree, Bendzuck hopes he will leave an imprint on the Spartan football program. He wants to be remembered by his teammates as a blue-collar player who worked hard every day.
"They might make the play, but I'm going to hit them while they're doing it," Bendzuck said, speaking like a true fullback.
Although he is unsure where his dreams will take him next, Bendzuck is certain that sports - especially football - will always be a part of his life.
This feature was originally published in the Oct. 16 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.