FOOTBALL: Bryce Duffy’s return to Bemidji State paying off after Division I sojourn

“They gave me a chance,” the starting tight end said, “so I was grateful for that.”

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Bemidji State junior Bryce Duffy (38) runs into the end zone on a touchdown reception against Wayne State on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Bryce Duffy caught a pair of touchdown passes last Saturday for the Bemidji State football team, but his journey to the end zone was a lot further than any box score could indicate.

They went for 6- and 40-yard scores, as part of BSU’s 38-28 win over Wayne State, but it also took two transfers, a text and an open invitation in order for Duffy to hit paydirt for the Beavers.

“They gave me a chance,” the starting tight end said, “so I was grateful for that.”

Duffy came into Bemidji State for the 2018 season, appearing in nine games as a freshman. His role expanded in 2019, which resulted in four touchdowns but also outside opportunities.

The DeForest, Wis., native transferred to his hometown Badgers at Wisconsin that spring. But through his conversations with his BSU coaches, Duffy knew that it wasn’t an all-or-nothing leap of faith.


“Immediately when I brought it up about transferring, (head coach Brent) Bolte wanted to make it known that I would always have a spot back here and I’d always be able to come back no matter what,” Duffy said. “I knew right from the start. It’s not good to (need) a back-up plan, but I was going to be welcomed back here.”

At Wisconsin, Duffy watched the world stop spinning as COVID-19 first sank its teeth into everyday life. So when things didn’t work out for him in Madison, he knew he could still swap Bucky Badger for Bucky the Beaver.

“I told him when he left, ‘If things don’t work out, you’ve always got a home here,’” Bolte said. “He contacted us to come back to Bemidji. We talked to some of the guys. He’s really loved and well respected in the locker room, so it was a no-brainer to bring him back.”

Duffy was welcomed back to Division II football with no season in 2020. But after waiting it out, returning to competition and finding the end zone is the ultimate payoff at the end of a long saga.

“It’s satisfying for sure,” said Duffy, now a junior. “I’ve got to give thanks to my QB (Brandon Alt) and (offensive coordinator Karson Pike), though. They dial up the plays, he puts the ball where it needs to be, so it’s honestly easy for me. … With the leaders we have on our offense and defense, it’s fun out there this year.”

The Beavers (2-0) have pulled off a pair of strong victories to open the year. But the biggest challenge yet awaits, as BSU meets No. 19 Minnesota State at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, in Mankato.

The Mavericks (1-1) were ranked No. 3 in the country before losing 30-10 at then-No. 20 Minnesota Duluth last week. Fresh off a stinging loss, Minnesota State will be eager to take out its frustrations on Bemidji State if it can.

“We know we’re going to walk down there regardless and get their best. Hopefully we can go out and show our best, as well,” Bolte said. “… There’s one way to beat them, and you’ve got to play physical. (We have to) execute a very specific game plan going down there. Hopefully ours is correct, and we can go down there and get after them.”


And for Duffy, there’s nobody he’d rather go to war with than his teammates in green.

“Everybody is trusting each other, doing our job each week and not trying to be too fancy. No one’s trying to be a hero,” Duffy said. “… The way (the guys) treated me coming back in here at the beginning of last year and up to now, it’s honestly been nothing I could have ever expected. My brothers, my family, I love all of them.”

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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