Making The Grade: James Kaczor

Junior linebacker James Kaczor has been a revelation on the field. Off of it, he is thriving in NDSU’s College of Engineering.

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Photo Nolan P. Schmidt


James Kaczor is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife. On the football field, he has proven to be a man of many talents. Recruited to NDSU as a safety, Kaczor saw some time at the position last year. However, the Bison coaching staff frequently played him at a linebacker spot in 2019. He completed his sophomore campaign with 77 total tackles including multiple games with
10 or more tackles.

His success at linebacker led to him making a switch to the position full-time ahead of the 2020 season. Kaczor will be looked upon as a vital piece to Code Green when Bison football does return to the gridiron.

But what else makes Kaczor such a versatile human? Surely, it is not just his skills on the football field. Nor is it his fabulous mop of hair, although that would land him on the Missouri Valley’s all-hair team if that existed.

No, it is Kaczor’s talents outside of the realm of football. A manufacturing engineering major, the junior has found himself on countless “academic” award teams in his time in Fargo. In the spring of 2020, Kaczor finished the semester with an impressive 3.8 GPA in an incredibly difficult major.

We will no doubt continue to praise Kaczor for his on-field accolades. Yet, one has to recognize that Kaczor’s future after football is perhaps bigger and brighter than the lights inside the Fargodome.

Manufacturing engineering seems like a rather daunting major. What led you to that field of study and what piqued your interest in it?

I knew that NDSU was a good engineering school. I’ve just always loved math and science. There wasn’t a huge reason why I went into engineering, but it’s obviously a lot of math and science.

Can you speak to how NDSU has helped you in your academic journey a little bit and how they have helped bridge that gap from high school to college?

School is on a whole new level when you come to college compared to in high school. Kelli [Layman, Associate Director of Athletic Academics] and her team do a fantastic job of helping you acclimate to the college rigors. The biggest thing is time management and keeping track of everything.

As long as you get all your assignments in, you will usually be all right. As soon as you start missing stuff you’re going to be in trouble. Kelli and her staff do a great job of staying on top of us and making sure we’re getting our stuff in and checking our grades, and just helping us along the way if we need anything. That could be something like what classes to sign up for. They have our backs and help us out a lot.

Was that time management factor the most challenging thing for you Outside of an athletic standpoint, but just coming into college in general? Was gaining those time management skills the biggest leap for you?

I would say time management and what goes hand in hand with that is discipline. You got to be pretty disciplined to get your schoolwork done, your workouts and get your meals in as well.

Time management and discipline are probably the two biggest things for me. Going from high school to college, you need to work on and cultivate those skills.

Are there any goals that you’ve set for yourself professionally? When there is a day after football, what do you want to utilize that major towards?

I’m a Christian. I want to use this engineering degree, to share the love of Jesus. That’s my goal. Whether it’s being an engineer for some firm or doing something completely different, I’m not entirely sure.

Moving to football talk, you’ve had a lot of transition here from starting at safety and moving to the linebacker spot. How has that transition helped you? What are some of the pros and cons of moving positions?

Pros for sure is just understanding the defense as a whole conceptually. If you can understand what the safeties are doing as well as the linebackers and the D line, you have a greater understanding of what we’re doing as a whole picture. That’s one of the pros and also getting to know my teammates. I spent a lot of time with Dawson [Weber] and Mike Tutsie. I became really good friends with them and now that I’ve transitioned to a full-time linebacker, guys like Jackson Hankey and others are becoming really good friends. Just gaining cohesiveness with the defense as a whole is a big pro.

There are not a lot of cons to it. There is definitely a little more on my plate this last fall camp. I was playing safety and linebacker and just keeping the two things separate but together. The safeties are a little bit different than the linebacker and the linebacker is a little bit different than the safety. There are no huge cons though. I actually really like it and I think it’s helped me a lot on the field.

I think when you play, it’s with a chip on your shoulder because you are a little undersized. Making that transition to linebacker and being a little smaller, does that motivate you a little bit more to thrive at that spot?

It’s a ton of fun being a smaller guy and making plays. I did put on a little bit of weight this offseason to help out with that. I definitely play with a little bit of chip on my shoulder because of that and some other reasons as well. The football season has changed, but the way that you keep up with academics has changed, too, because it’s pretty much moved entirely online.

What have been some of the biggest challenges from a football and academic perspective throughout the last six months or so?

Over quarantine, there’s no one, you don’t have coach [Jim]Kramer on your tail, and you don’t have coach texting you every day, telling you what to do and stuff like that. You need to be disciplined and getting your workouts in on your own and getting your academics done. One thing that’s been hardest is not having football. That’s kind of a big reason why we train and work out a lot is to play games eventually. The fact that we haven’t had games in a long time, we got the one in the fall, which was awesome, but I’m really praying that these games work out in the spring. It’s felt like a long time since we played football.

As far as on the academic side, it’s the same thing with just discipline and time management. You’re a lot more on your own, you don’t have teachers walking you through problems as much. The virtual stuff is great, but it’s also limited in its interactions. So you kind of have to do a little more of your own research and self-teaching. Working through that and then figuring out what works best for you was the biggest transition or difficulty from going from in class to virtual.

This whole pandemic has forced pretty much everybody to become more self-sufficient. How do you think this self-sufficient attitude and race to maturity helps you as we get a little bit closer to not only the second semester but hopefully a football season?

A race to maturity is a good way to put it. There was a lot of growing that happened over quarantine in these last few months as well. Just learning how to be self-disciplined and learning how to manage my time is going to help me not only in this next semester but as I go on through my life with jobs and hopefully a family someday. Prioritizing those things and time managing those things will always be an important key to success.

James Kaczor
Hometown: St. Cloud, Minn.
Major: Mechanical Engineering
– Two-time Missouri Valley Football Conference Honor Roll
– 2019 MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award
– 2019 CoSIDA Academic All-District First Team
– 2019 MVFC All-Academic Second Team

Making The Grade: James Kaczor
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