UND FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: UND's starting running back role up for grabs

UND football has only been on Cedric Simmons' radar for about a week. Still, the junior college running back has a chance to leave a major print on the program. Simmons, who went to FBS San Jose State out of high school, was the only running back...

UND football signing class


UND football has only been on Cedric Simmons’ radar for about a week.

Still, the junior college running back has a chance to leave a major print on the program.

Simmons, who went to FBS San Jose State out of high school, was the only running back to sign a national letter of intent with UND’s 26-member recruiting class on Wednesday.

“The coaching staff is new, and I liked them,” said Simmons, who is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. “They said they needed a running back. That was a plus.”


UND’s starting running back role is up for grabs as Jake Miller was a senior in 2013.

Even with Miller, the running back corps struggled to run the ball effectively last season. As a whole unit, UND rushed for 891 yards and gave up 2,069 on the ground.

UND returns five running backs for next season with senior Jer Garman, senior Adam Shaugabay, junior P.J. Sparks, sophomore Kodee Varner and redshirt freshman Patrick Sharp.

Miller led UND a year ago with 424 yards on 98 attempts (4.3 yards per carry). He played in nine games and scored five touchdowns.

Garman played in all 11 games and rushed for 158 yards on 45 carries (3.5 average), while Sparks rushed 15 times for 113 yards (7.5).

Shaugabay was the team’s short yardage back and scored eight touchdowns. He carried 45 times for 80 yards (1.8).

Without a clear-cut favorite to handle a bulk of the carries in 2014, Simmons will enter the picture with a strong opportunity for playing time.

He rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman season at Mesa Community College. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry for a team that finished 10-2.


“We weren’t a running team, so I didn’t get that many carries,” Simmons said.

As a prep senior, Simmons rushed for 1,119 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“I just want to have fun and make new experiences,” Simmons said. “I’m looking to finish school and have some fun.”

Simmons, who was recruited by UND recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Kevin Maurice, said he plans to come to school in the summer for early workouts.

Simmons was the second-to-last recruit to deliver his letter of intent to UND. During UND coach Bubba Schweigert’s press conference on Wednesday, he couldn’t talk about Simmons because the school hadn’t received his letter of intent yet.

But with or without Simmons, it appears UND will continue to address running back needs.

“Others might become available as you get into May,” Schweigert said. “I can’t stress enough that it’s an ongoing process. That’s the way you have to do it at the FCS level.

“We would like to get a physical, downhill running back. We want to run the football. You have to have a guy to hand it to 18-20 times. That takes a big, physical guy to take that pounding.”


North Dakota duo

UND was able to land two preps from its home state: Austin Cieslak of Hazen and Jacob Holmen of Minot.

Cieslak is a 6-foot-4, 250-pound lineman, who might have the ability to move to tight end.

“I like Austin from Hazen,” Schweigert said. “We went to watch him play basketball, and he dunked. You have to be a pretty good athlete to be that size and dunk. His ceiling is unlimited. His upside is really good.”

Holmen was recruited as a long snapper, a position that was a question mark a year ago after 2012 long snapper Taylor Grant left the program.

“He’s been in pressure situations,” Schweigert said of the multi-sport athlete. “That adds value to a long snapper. We’re looking to create competition.”

Kicking game solidifies

With the departure of senior Zeb Miller, UND needed to add a kicker in this recruiting class.


UND landed two with scholarship kicker Reid Taubenheim of Farmington, Minn., and walk-on Sam Fluegge of Apple Valley, Minn.

Taubenheim was a first-team all-state pick in Minnesota and holds his high school’s record for longest field goal made (48 yards).

Taubenheim was labeled as the No. 24 kicker in the country by Kohl’s special teams camp.

Quick hitters

  •  Schweigert on Michigan recruits: “Chris Carter is a physical corner with good ball skills and Brandon Walker has good size and can go get the ball. He’s electric. They go against good competition in that Detroit area.”
  •  Linebacker Dylan Harmston of Menomonie, Wis., holds his conference’s record in the triple jump. In football, he was all-state second team with 86 tackles and 10 sacks as a senior.
  •  Schweigert on the lone quarterback in the class: “Keaton Studsrud is a very good quarterback prospect.” Studsrud, 6-1 and 185, threw for 1,555 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior. The dual-threat athlete also ran for 797 yards and 10 scores.
  •  Schweigert highlighted one potential recruit to play right away in junior college safety Chris Hannible of Bakersfield, Calif. Hannible had 59 tackles and four interceptions as a sophomore last year at Bakersfield College.
  •  Wide receiver Marcell Kellum of La Grange, Ill., was the only known verbal commitment to not sign on Wednesday.


Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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