FARGO — North Dakota State defensive end Derrek Tuszka and tight end Ben Ellefson have had their “wow” moments this week during practice for the East-West Shrine Bowl, according to a national football analyst.
Tuszka and Ellefson have also shown less splashy but important traits, similar to what Emory Hunt, the founder and an analyst for Football Gameplan, has seen from other recent Bison pro football prospects.
“All those guys have the same work ethic,” said Hunt, who founded Football Gameplan in 2007 and also writes for The Athletic sports website. “They’re consistent every day at practice.”
The East-West Shrine Bowl is scheduled for 2 p.m. (CST) Saturday, Jan. 18, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is set to be televised on the NFL Network. The game is the longest running all-start college football game in the nation. Players must be seniors and are selected for their potential to make NFL rosters, the game's website states.
Ellefson and Tuszka are on the West roster. Atlanta Falcons offensive assistant Ben Steele is the head coach for the West. Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant Mike Caldwell is coaching the East team.
Tuszka and Ellefson helped the Bison win a third consecutive NCAA Division I FCS national championship with a 28-20 victory against James Madison last Saturday in Frisco, Texas. The Bison were 45-1 over the past three seasons with three national titles.
The 6-foot-5, 246-pound Tuszka, from Warner, S.D., had 13.5 sacks in his senior season with the Bison. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Ellefson, from Hawley, Minn., finished his NDSU career with 16 touchdown catches, a program record for a tight end.
Hunt, who watched the first three days of East-West Shrine practice, said Tuszka had strong moments during individual drills.
“He’s shown a good burst off the edge,” Hunt said. “I think at North Dakota State he didn’t get a lot of credit for his ability as a speed rusher. He’s shown a lot of that. His speed has been helping him out a lot in 1-on-1s.”
Tuszka finished his Bison career with 29.5 sacks in 53 games. He also had 42 tackles for a loss, helping NDSU win 37 consecutive games to cap his career.
Hunt said Ellefson played some fullback during practice this week, but thinks Ellefson is more of a natural tight end with good hands and also a strong route runner.
“That’s a dude you want on your team,” Hunt said. “I can see him being a solid tight end.”
Hunt projects Tuszka as a Day 3, priority free agent prospect for the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 23.
“He will be in (an NFL) camp for sure,” Hunt said.
Hunt rates Ellefson a notch higher than Tuszka as a prospect, one who could get drafted in the sixth or seventh rounds, the final two rounds of the draft.
“I think Ben is more of a solid Day 3 guy because of how well he catches the football and him getting open,” Hunt said. “I think for Ellefson, he had a couple of wow plays, some one-handed catches.”
Former Bison quarterback Easton Stick played in the East-West game last season and is now with the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers drafted Stick in the fifth round of last year’s NFL Draft.
“It also helps to perform in a game where you’re thrown into an adverse situation,” Hunt said. “How do you respond?”