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Bemidji St. football: Special homecoming for BSU kicker Zach Pulkinen

BEMIDJI — Zach Pulkinen’s collegiate career will end right where it started — his hometown of Minot, N.D.

“It’s very special,” said Pulkinen, Bemidji State’s senior kicker/punter. “It actually all started in Minot when we played them out of conference... my very first game was there. Ironically, it’s ending up there. To have it be my last game at BSU is awesome.”

The Beavers (2-8) travel to Minot 1:30 p.m. today to close out their season against Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe Minot State (2-8).

Strangely enough, BSU’s first game in Pulkinen’s first season at BSU (2010) was a nonconference game at Minot State. Pulkinen was handling kickoff duties for the Beavers that year and BSU head coach Jeff Tesch was impressed with his leg — even though Minot somehow scored a touchdown on his second-ever kick.

“The first game he played he kicked it, it was a touchback, and I thought it was an awesome kick,” Tesch said of that game. “The next one he kicked it and the kid ran it back 102 yards for a touchdown, which you don’t see often. But it was a good debut.”

Now Pulkinen — who is currently second in the conference and 18th nationally in punting yards at 2,620 and 42.3 yards per punt — will get a chance to entertain fans in his hometown one last time.

“It’s pure excitement,” he said. “I have tons of friends there that are going to be at the game. I’ve got family flying in. I have some friends on the team, too. And a lot of the parents of other BSU players are coming in. It will be fun.”

The soccer-player-turned-kicker took a somewhat circuitous route to BSU. After playing high school soccer at Minot High School, a friend of his — Minot State defensive lineman Kalvin Larson — encouraged him to kick for the football team his senior year. He did both that year and loved it.

“I was like, ‘Alright, I have to go to soccer practice first,’” Pulkinen said. “But coach just said, ‘OK, come kick a couple then go to soccer practice.’ So I did that for a year and I loved it.”

But after high school Pulkinen wanted to give college soccer a shot. He went to College of Idaho for a season in 2009, but the small school was far from home and he didn’t like it.

“I wanted to switch it up and play football,” Pulkinen said. “(BSU defensive coordinator Rich Jahner) had heard of me, and I sent out some film. He got back to me and BSU really stood out. They needed a guy to kick off so I decided to come here.”

Eventually Pulkien was also handling all of BSU’s kicking and punting duties.

This season he’s one of the top special teams weapons in the nation — especially because of his punting abilities. Pulkinen is currently on pace to set the school’s single-season punting average record, which is 41.8 yards per punt set in 1977 by Rick Van Roekel.

“He’s a candidate for our offensive MVP,” Tesch said. “The way he can flip the field and pin the other team back and get an extra 20 yards on some of the punts has helped us. He’s had a fantastic year. I hope he gets an opportunity to get noticed and to get in a place where he can showcase his kicking abilities.”

Pulkinen says he plans on trying to ply his trade professionally — he has attended a few kicking camps and has held his own against Division I kickers and punters. But first, he’d like to end his senior season at Bemidji State on a high note.

“Minot’s our last game,” he said. “This season didn’t end up the way it should have gone. We need to win to end up on a positive note, so we’re going to do anything we can do to get it.”

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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