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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The moment when Tucker Kraft was selected by the Green Bay Packers, captured on video and posted on Twitter, was one of the great moments of the 2023 NFL Draft.

“Part of being where I live, that’s just kind of my personality,” Kraft, a third-round pick, said on Friday at Packers rookie camp. “I grew up in a rural area. I had several members from my community become a part of my childhood through the adversities I had faced.”

His father, Doug, died in June 2013 when he crashed his crop plane while applying pesticide. Kraft was only 12. His mom, Tausha, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease a year later. The community helped fill the void, and the community was there to share Kraft’s magical draft moment.

He wouldn’t have done it any other way.

“Being able to go back home and have that in our airport hangar – we own the crop airport where I lived – so just getting that opportunity, we shoved 300 people inside of a hangar. We had roast-beef sandwiches and drank light beer and whiskey, and we had a good time. Being able to do that with all those people who’ve been my fans for a decade, that’s been real fun.”

Kraft is loyal to family and friends. And he is loyal to his teams.

Kraft hails from Tucker Lake, S.D. The population is about 500. Timber Lake High School played nine-man football; Kraft lined up primarily at running back and linebacker. He even was the punter and played a little quarterback. A four-year starter, he rushed for 3,130 yards, made 142 tackles and scored 50 touchdowns.

“He carried his team,” John Stiegelmeier, who coached South Dakota State, to the 2022 national championship, said last week, “and he carried the other team quite often."

Playing at a school that’s not exactly a hot spot on the recruiting trail, Kraft was a superstar in high school but a zero-star in the eyes of recruiters. Only Division II schools were interested until South Dakota State, an FCS powerhouse, offered him a scholarship. At that point, some FBS teams showed some interest.

But Kraft stayed true to his word and stuck with South Dakota State.

In 2021, his junior season, he was the first-team FCS All-American tight end after catching 65 passes for 780 yards and six touchdowns.

The big fish of college football descended on the small pond that is the school located in Brookings, S.D. Their bait? NIL money. Lots of NIL money.

“There was a lot of opportunities to accept six-figure deals to attend other universities,” Kraft said during his introductory Zoom. “But, ultimately, I decided to stay at South Dakota State. That decision was real hard. At one point, I was just a single click away from entering the portal and going, let’s just say, to the SEC to play football.”

Why did he stay?


It was the same reason why Kraft elected to return to action as a senior following an ankle injury. Kraft could have sat out the rest of the season to insure he was fully healthy for the predraft draft process. Based on his physical tools and his 2021 dominance, his draft status had been secured. From a personal perspective, there was more downside to playing than upside.

But, Kraft did return. After a six-game absence, he helped the Jackrabbits win the national championship.


Why didn’t he got to an FBS school, such as Wyoming, coming out of Timber Lake? Why didn’t he line his pockets with money by transferring for his final season? Why did he return to action in 2022 at less than 100 percent?

“I was playing for a university that took so many chances on me,” he said on Friday. “Even the Packers. I’m going to give them everything that I have because they went out and drafted me.

“When people give me a chance and they trust me – if a coach loses games, he’s not going to be coach anymore. If a coach is giving me the opportunity to do the right things and put my best foot forward for the organization, then I’m going to give that back to them.”

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