Bison football coaches get creative in landing their recruiting class of 24 players

Pandemic forced NDSU to find other methods to reach and evaluate players

Fargo South's Enock Sibomana carries against Fargo Davies during their football game Friday, Sept. 11, at Davies. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — North Dakota State added to its football recruiting army over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic: the United States Postal Service. The Bison announced the addition of 24 players on Wednesday on the first day of the early signing period and all 24 got used to checking their mailboxes.

The Bison coaching staff made a habit of hand-written letters.

“We’ve gone back to old school,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz.

In the case of defensive tackle Jaxon Duttenhefer, he even returned the favor. Last week, Entz had a letter with a Mandan postal stamp, the hometown of Duttenhefer. So did the rest of the Bison coaches.

“You guys spent so much time writing me,” Entz said, quoting Duttenhefer. “I wanted to take the time to write back.”


With quarterback Cole Payton from Omaha, Neb., he spent a lot of time calling Entz. Every Thursday night around 7 all fall.

Entz said he got a bit nervous the first few times he saw Payton’s cell number pop up on his phone, probably concerned over Payton saying he was going to commit to a bigger school.

“He wanted to check in and see how the Bison were doing that week,” Entz said.

It’s usual for a recruit to have constant contact with position coaches, in this case quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg and offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl. It’s not often a recruit calls the head coach every week.

“It speaks volumes of his willingness to continue to grow,” Entz said. “Being the head coach is like the high school principal, the only time you talk to them is usually negative. I want to have a great relationship with everybody and he’s going to hit the ground running.”

NDSU had to sweat out the threat of a bigger school coming in and flipping a recruit, as usual, but perhaps not as much as past years. West Fargo Sheyenne running back Barika Kpeenu had a late offer from Iowa State last weekend, but kept his NDSU commitment.

The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Payton, who verbally committed to NDSU last May and led his team to an unbeaten season and a Nebraska state championship, had some highlights make the rounds on social media. Iowa State and Nebraska made late pitches to him, but never offered.

“You just keep talking about the reasons why we recruited them,” Entz said. “The connection with them and when we started the process. With both of these young men, we had been recruiting them since early in their junior year. There’s a level of comfort not only they have but their parents have with our staff and our university. You sell the people. How do you make a relationship in four days? We make it over the course of 12 months and I think that’s what separates us.”


Entz said NDSU put only 45 scholarship offers out there.

“Because we offer a limited number, it allows us to do our due diligence on the back end to get to know these young men,” he said.

NDSU may add at least another player in the February signing date, but the Bison will also be in the beginning stages of its spring season that will be taking precedence.

Broken down, the class has six players from North Dakota, five from Minnesota, three from Wisconsin and one each from Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Georgia and Florida. They were split almost equally with 11 offensive players, 12 defensive and a long snapper.

The other in-state players the Bison got are Sheyenne defensive end Kole Menz, Fargo South safety Enock Sibomana, Fargo Davies fullback Truman Werremeyer and Bismarck High tight end Jack Steckler.

Entz, in his eighth at the school and second as head coach, said he’s noticed the level of play in North Dakota in general and Fargo area specifically, get better. It’s made for more recruitable players at the Division I level.


“The football is improving,” he said. “Is that a byproduct of Bison success? Probably not, but I think there are kids that all they’ve known since 8 or 9 years old are the Bison and the Bison going to games, seeing the Bison on TV, hopefully going to youth camp and high school camp. I think there is an affinity to want to play at the state university of North Dakota. We say it every year, we have to start with the best players in North Dakota and think we have five home runs here.”

Entz seemed intrigued with the potential of Perham, Minn., tight end Finn Diggins. He played quarterback for the Yellow Jackets but the Bison see the 6-4, 215-pound Diggins as a tight end. Diggins was perhaps the poster child on how NDSU recruited in the pandemic, with in-person evaluations and meetings off limits.

“When we started talking about how to evaluate, multi-sport athlete became important,” Entz said. “We need to see them do multiple things. We had the opportunity to see Finn’s basketball highlights and it was dunk after dunk after dunk. The athleticism was there. Now we have the opportunity to develop him as a football player.”

Bison commitments:

North Dakota

Barika Kpeenu, 5-10, 185, RB, West Fargo Sheyenne

Enock Sibomana, 5-10, 185, S, Fargo South

Truman Werremeyer, 6-1, 226, FB, Fargo Davies


Jaxon Duttenhefer, 6-2, 275, DT, Mandan

Jack Steckler, 6-5, 208, TE, Bismarck

Kole Menz, 6-3, 200, DE, West Fargo Sheyenne


Finn Diggins, 6-5, 215, TE, Perham

Sam Henry, 6-6, 255, OL, Eden Prairie

Brayden Weber, 6-1, 2226, LB, Becker

Bryce Lance, 6-2, 165, WR, Marshall


Eli Green, 5-11, 185, WR, Farmington


Cole Payton, 6-2, 218, QB, Omaha Westside


Alex Oechsner, 5-10, 175, CB, Waukesha

Kayden Warren, 6-4, 250, DT, Rice Lake

Cam Devine, 6-2, 205, RB, Brookfield



Logan Kopp, 6-1, 195, LB, St. Louis

Reggie King, 6-3, 175, S, Grandview


Kody Huisman, 6-3, 263, DT, Pella

Blake Sadr, 6-4, 265, OL, Treynor


Nasir Howell, 6-1, 175, CB, Kennesaw


Mike Florentine, 6-1, 225, long snapper, Frankfort


Britton Pascoe, 5-11, 175, CB, Valrico


Ryan Jones, 6-3, 195, S, Reedy


Braden Rucker, 6-3, 230, OL, Eureka

Fargo Davies' Truman Werremeyer carries against Fargo North during their football game Sept. 18, 2020, at Davies. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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