When Bengals head coach Zac Taylor called up the rookies at the end of Friday's minicamp, the group doubled the size of Cordell Volson's graduating high school class.
But the small-school player with the biggest of dreams fit right in as he got in his first NFL work in downtown Cincinnati. The guy who grew up working and working out at his family's excavation company caught a glimpse of the industry and the railroad tracks ringing Paul Brown Stadium.
"I saw the bulldozers and I was thinking 'You're right at home,'" said Volson, the North Dakota State offensive lineman who stayed home to play in Fargo. "Sometimes, maybe I'll need to go get humble and move some railroad ties or something. It's a cool place. First time I've ever been in Cincinnati."
Position coach Frank Pollack wasted no time putting his prized fourth-round pick at both guard spots along an abbreviated offensive line in the elongated position drills. It was no different for Volson than those days he moved up and down every spot on the line for the Drake-Anamoose High School's nine-man football team.
"I never thought it would be any different," said Volson of that massive leap and two-hour ride to the 11-man game when he left for the big time to play a record 65 games for nationally acclaimed Bisons. "At the end of the day, it's football. It's about putting your hand in the ground and moving your guy from Point A to Point B."
Volson did a lot more than that for Drake head coach Chris Arnold. He started early. When he was in eighth grade they were heading up north about two hours for a game, maybe 10 miles from the Canadian border. Not that long of a bus ride on a schedule where the closest game was 35 minutes away.
And they were down to nine players.
"I told him he was going to be our center and he looked at me with these big old eyes and he said, 'Coach, I'm not ready,''' Arnold recalled the other day. "You're not going to find a more down to earth kid who just wants to work hard. Everybody's got that small-town kind who is something special. He's ours."
It turned out Volson was more than ready. The way it worked before Drake switched from nine-man to six-man after Volson graduated, there was the quarterback, running back, fullback, one wide receiver, a center, two guards and two tight ends.
The tight ends were eligible, but they were also kind of like tackles. Volson figures he scored eight or nine touchdowns out of the slot in his career as Arnold balanced a roster between 11 and 15 players.
"He'd play up and down the line and everywhere on defense," Arnold said. "In the same game. D-End. D-Tackle. Linebacker. We'd put him where we needed him. A lot of it was matchups. "You'd put him against their best guy and see what it was."
What it was, was good enough to fuel one of the great careers at a North Dakota State program that has dominated the NCAA Division I Subdivision for a quarter of a century. Those were the players Volson followed.
Guys like Tyler Roehl, the school's All-American running back who came back to coach and became his offensive coordinator.
"He was one of the big guys I looked up to growing up," Volson said. "I'm just really thankful to become great friends with one of the guys I idolized."
The numbers may be small, but the Bisons' playbook is as big as it gets.
"We run everything," said Volson, who stayed on campus this spring and helped Roehl with the offensive line. "Wide zone. Tight zone. Duos and powers and counters. We're not just sitting back there in spread throwing it around the yard. We huddle every play."
Arnold saw the tenacity early. Sophomore year on a playoff team.
"His will to win got the better of him," Arnold said. "I had to bench him in the fourth quarter. That's probably the last time he was ever benched. I didn't really have the numbers to do it, but it was a learning moment … He wanted to take the game over himself … But he showed up on Monday morning and he couldn't have worked harder to better himself. The will to win is unbelievable in that guy. I could go on for hours about his work ethic. And he's stayed rooted with a great family."
The roots are also in that graduation class of 13 in a town of about 300. Volson remembers the day they graduated and the slide shows during the ceremony in the gym.
"There was a little more excitement to it than your typical name after name after name after name type graduation," Volson said. "It's a lot more connected at a small school like that. Everyone knows everyone and everyone's family is happy for your classmates just because you've been friends with those kids since you first started walking."
Those kids now are Krese Arnold, Chris Arnold's son.
"I've got a 10-year-old who absolutely idolizes that guy," Chris Arnold said. "We'd go to an NDSU game and after he'd always take pictures with my son and stop and talk to him for a few minutes. He'd give him a hug. It was like he'd rather to him than a reporter or anyone else."
There was a graduation-like excitement during Draft Saturday two weeks ago. The Volsons had a get together at the shop that houses the family's RV Enterprises named after his father and Chris Arnold noticed Cordell was still making the rounds.
"There were 15 to 20 kids there and he took the time to talk to them," Chris Arnold said. "He talked to Krese for about ten minutes on a day like that."
Krese and his mom are 49ers fans and were hoping he'd go there. Chris roots for the Broncos. But everyone thought Cincinnati is just fine.
"As long as he didn't go to the Vikings," said Chris Arnold after his guy went downtown. "The blue-collarness of it, it's a great fit."