Kolpack: In FCS football recruiting, geography is NDSU's friend, not foe
FARGO — It was in the year or two after Craig Bohl was hired as the North Dakota State head football coach in 2003 when the footprint for stocking his football team was obvious: Get the big guys from around here and go south to find some speed.
It wasn't that cut-and-dried, of course, but when Bohl hired Reggie Moore as an assistant football coach, the No. 1 job for Reggie was to take advantage of his name recognition in the Houston area and bring some recruits north.
Bohl was no stranger to the area, either, having recruited the state of Texas as an assistant at Rice, among his other Division I FBS jobs.
And that's exactly what the Bison did. Every year on the first Wednesday of February, on national signing day, NDSU inked a player or three as part of its recruiting class. There were a few jewels over the course of a decade like receiver Warren Holloway, running back/return specialist Mike Sigers, cornerbacks Richard Bowman and Nate Agbetola and running back D.J. McNorton, but by and large the Texas experiment produced more misses than gets.
On Friday night, a team with numerous Texas recruits ventured to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome to take on NDSU in the semifinals of the Division I FCS playoffs. Sam Houston State of Huntsville, Texas, had plenty of skill with the likes of quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe and receiver Davion Davis.
But the Bearkats didn't have much of a chance to display it. The physical nature of NDSU was overpowering in the 55-13 win that sends the Bison to the national title game on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
Funny thing about NDSU's foray into Division I athletics that started in 2004: You have to wonder if things have done a 180-degree turn in recruiting. Perhaps it's Sam Houston who should think about coming north for some big guys.
Bearkats head coach K.C. Keeler said after the game his team is not built for the kind of style that has the Bison going to Frisco for the sixth time in seven years.
"We don't see that sort of power run game," Keeler said. "To try and go defend what they do in a week is really hard. It's a totally different brand of football and we obviously have to get up to speed in terms of how they play."
It has to be hard to recruit Texas for that kind of power. There are so many FBS programs in the food chain ahead of you that are looking for those coveted defensive and offensive linemen.
Not in any particular order, those schools are Texas, TCU, Southern Methodist, Baylor, Rice, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, North Texas, UT-San Antonio, Texas-El Paso and Texas State. That's 11 football-playing schools in the big-boy division.
On the FCS side besides Sam Houston, there is Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist, Lamar, The Incarnate Word, Stephen F. Austin, Prairie View and Texas Southern. That's 19 Division I-football playing school.
None of those programs are venturing to Balfour, N.D., to recruit Tanner or Cordell Volson. You won't find them in Becker, Minn., wooing Dillon Radunz from taking FBS opportunities.
Do the Texas schools know where Granville or McVille N.D. is? The NDSU coaches know that Luke Bacon and Bryce Messner from those respective towns have developed into quality offensive linemen. The Bison have found their strong guys in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota, players that have helped NDSU take the FCS to a higher level of physical football.
Arguably, the best four teams remaining in the FCS this year were NDSU, South Dakota State, James Madison and Weber State.
Three of them bread their butter mostly on power football and SDSU probably would if it didn't have Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert.
"There's a reason why they're one of the unique programs in the country, to be able to play at this high of a level," Keeler said. "I was just talking to an alum that had flown in, he sat in the defensive meetings, and he said 'they ran all the things that you said they were going to run,' but they're just really good at it. It's almost to perfection. And when you adjust, they adjust. And we don't see that style of football. We see a totally different style of football and we didn't do a very good job adjusting to that."
On Saturday, the Bison coaching staff was out recruiting, driving the roads of the Upper Midwest to shore up their verbal commitments for Wednesday's early signing day. You won't find any FCS coach from Texas on those highways.
Crazy, if you think about it. When Bohl took the job, he wanted to get some kids from Texas. Now you have to wonder if Texas wouldn't mind some linemen from up here.
It turns out geography is NDSU's Division I friend, not enemy.