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.”

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Minnesota State Moorhead defensive lineman Darius Woods-Steichen, right, records a sack against the University of Mary during the 2019 football season. The Dragons had their 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Minnesota State Moorhead defensive lineman Darius Woods-Steichen, right, records a sack against the University of Mary during the 2019 football season. The Dragons had their 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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.”