MOORHEAD — Minnesota State Moorhead football coach Steve Laqua said senior defensive end Darius Woods-Steichen appeared on the team’s recruiting radar by chance.
Two Dragons assistant coaches helped work a football camp in Woods-Steichen’s hometown area during the summer before his senior year in high school and liked what they saw. Woods-Steichen was a high school football standout for Waubun, where he played for former Dragons football player Paul Clark.
“We were just helping out with a high school camp,” Laqua said. “We sent a couple guys up there and, lo and behold, we found a player. We stumbled into an all-conference player.”
Woods-Steichen is a super senior for the Dragons this fall, entering his sixth season in the program. He used an NCAA eligibility waiver due to COVID-19 to return for another season. The Dragons had their 2020 campaign canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It finally feels nice to get back after it,” Woods-Steichen said. “We only are guaranteed 11 or so games and last year we didn’t get them.”
In their Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference opener Thursday, Sept. 2, MSUM beat Southwest Minnesota State 33-21 in Marshall, Minn. The Dragons defense created four turnovers and three different MSUM defenders intercepted passes, including Woods-Steichen.
MSUM, which posted a 6-5 record in 2019, was picked to finish ninth out of 14 teams in the NSIC preseason coaches’ poll.
“I hope we can prove a lot of people wrong,” said Woods-Steichen, who was a multi-sport athlete in high school.
The 6-foot-2, 264-pound Woods-Steichen has been a disruptive force on the defensive front for the Dragons in their previous two seasons. In 2018, he had 8.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss, and followed that with six sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2019. He played a combined 23 games over those two seasons, earning All-NSIC honors after each season.
“He’s really quick and good with hands, getting blockers off of him,” Laqua said. “He’s got a little bit of shake and bake to him which I think catches people off guard. … He has the ability to make a game-changing play, his sacks and tackles for losses have definitely been game changing.”
The Dragons defensive line is expected to be a position group of strength with Woods-Steichen and three other super seniors in defensive tackles Jordan Magnuson and Hunter Sall and defensive end Derek Porozinski. Woods-Steichen is roommates with Magnuson, Sall and Porozinski.
“Once the first person who said they’d come back, it was sort of a domino effect,” Woods-Steichen said.
Laqua said the Dragons are expected to rotate eight to 10 players along their four-man defensive front, taking some of the workload off players like Woods-Steichen and Magnuson. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound Magnuson had 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2019.
“Our depth on defense is a lot deeper than our past few years,” Woods-Steichen said.
“We have more depth so it allows him to be fresher so he can impact more plays,” Laqua said of Woods-Steichen. “Being able to keep him fresh allows him to be more disruptive, especially in the pass game.”
Woods-Steichen said his strength is rushing the passer, so working on developing his run-stopping skills is an area he’s tried to improve during his college career.
“The run game is where I had to put more of my work for during the offseason,” Woods-Steichen said. “I wanted to be a better run stopper, but the pass rush has always been there.”
Laqua said not playing games last season allowed Woods-Steichen to heal up physically and that could work to his benefit this fall.
“He’s played a lot of snaps and a lot of tread on the tires and he plays physical, so some of it was just a good year to heal and work in the weight room.” Laqua said.
Woods-Steichen said he’s savoring every moment this fall. Laqua said while Woods-Steichen is a fierce competitor, he also balances that with an even-keel personality.
“He’s always got a smile on his face,” Laqua said. “He’s a guy who connects really well with his teammates. His teammates enjoy being around him. He leads through those connections.”