Bison football finds national recruiting pockets to complete recruiting class
FARGO — The North Dakota State football program set another school record on Wednesday. The Bison finished off the biggest recruiting class in the NCAA Division I FCS era, which was somewhat surprising considering it came during a change of head coaches.
The Bison added 13 players on the first day of the regular signing period for Division I football. That came in addition to the 25 that signed during the early period in December bringing the total to 38.
“It’s too early to say it was a home run but I feel good about it on paper,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz.
The first 25 were mostly from the Upper Midwest. On the surface, it appears NDSU went far and wide for the final 13 but the reality is the focus was more or less two new recruiting counties — one in Georgia and one in Texas — and an old standby in the Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., area.
In Georgia, the Bison narrowed their focus to Gwinnett County, located just northeast of metro Atlanta. Part of that advice came from Travis Noland, the father of Bison transfer quarterback Zeb Noland.
Travis Noland is a highly regarded high school football coach at Oconee County High School in Georgia.
“He gave us some insight on where in Gwinnett County we need to go, what areas are under-recruited” Entz said. “That’s an area where there are a ton of college level and Division I players. I think we’ll continue to go down there.”
That advice led to the signing of running back Kobe Johnson from Discovery High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., and defensive back Dominic Jones from Peachtree High School in Duluth, Ga.
Jones has three brothers who were Division I athletes and his uncle, Joseph Jones, played basketball at Bismarck State College.
NDSU took advantage of its name recognition in the Frisco, Texas, area for wide receiver Braylon Henderson from Plano East High School. Entz said the focus was narrowed to 13 high schools in the north Dallas suburbs of Plano, Frisco and Allen.
NDSU has won seven of the last eight FCS national titles played in Frisco. The connection this year got legs when the Bison were forced to practice indoors at Lone Star High School in Frisco on the Thursday before the title game because of rainy weather.
Entz had a conversation with the Lone Star head football coach before practice.
“His comment was, you need to be down here every year,” Entz said. “Every football player in Frisco, Allen and Plano knows who the Bison are.”
Henderson was a two-year team captain who played receiver, cornerback and safety. He had 852 receiving yards and six touchdowns as a senior.
“I think every year we’ve thought about getting down there,” Entz said. “The program is only so big, you don’t want to stretch yourself to a point where you’re not doing a good job in our local area. That’s the last thing we want to do.”
Although not in the Frisco footprint, NDSU landed receiver DJ Baptist from Hutto, Texas, located north of Austin. His head coach, Brad LaPlante, was formerly the head coach at Rochester Community College (Minn.) until 2010.
“It made for an easy transition,” Entz said.
The transition to Florida continued with defensive back Cameron Smith from Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg and linebacker Hunter Brozio from Lakeland, Fla. Brozio is a recruited walk-on. Smith, who at one time held a few FBS offers, recently decommitted from Rhode Island.
The Bison made it official with quarterback Logan Graetz from River Falls, Wis. His mother, Elizabeth (Mayer) Graetz, was an all-American in the high jump at NDSU.
NDSU completed its list with six more recruited walk-ons: receiver Jacob Halverson from Central Cass, defensive back Caleb Beebe from North Aurora, Ill., running back Austin Schiff from Springfield, Ill., running back Braden Zuroff from Hebron, N.D. (Glen Ullin High School), cornerback Jenaro Wathum-Ocama from Woodbury, Minn., and tight end Zach Gottwalt from Rice, Minn. (Royalton High School).
The high number of signed recruits was the result of last year’s big senior class of 24 players.
“We did have a large amount of scholarship money wrapped up into the 24 seniors that played their last game in Frisco,” Entz said. “We still can only have 85 kids on scholarship so we’re still following NCAA protocol even though it’s the biggest class out there.”
NDSU’s Feb. 6 signing day list
National letter of intent
DJ Baptist, (WR, 6-0, 175, Hutto, Texas/ Hutto HS)
Logan Graetz (QB, 6-3, 189, River Falls, Wis./ River Falls HS)
Braylon Henderson (WR, 5-9, 165, Wylie, Texas/ Plano East HS)
Kobe Johnson (RB, 5-9, 165, Lawrenceville, Ga./ Discovery HS)
Dominic Jones (DB, 6-2, 180, Duluth, Ga./ Peachtree HS)
Cameron Smith (DB, 5-10, 175, Gulfport, Fla./ Admiral Farragut Academy)
Caleb Beebe (DB, 5-10, 155, North Aurora, Ill./ Aurora Christian HS)
Hunter Brozio (LB, 6-0, 220, Lakeland, Fla./ Lake Gibson HS)
Zach Gottwalt (TE, 6-4, 195, Rice, Minn./ Royalton HS)
Jacob Halverson (WR, 6-3, 175, Casselton, N.D./ Central Cass HS)
Austin Schiff (RB, 5-11, 195, Springfield, Ill./ Glenwood HS)
Jenaro Wathum-Ocama (CB, 6-0, 174, Woodbury, Minn./ Woodbury HS)
Braden Zuroff (RB, 6-0, 185, Hebron, N.D./ Glen Ullin HS)