FARGO — The 15th verbal commitment to the North Dakota State football recruiting class, Cam Devine from Brookfield, Wis., said on his Twitter account that the process was long and winding but relatively stress free. On the other end, the Bison coaching staff can attest to the long and winding road.
Stress free? Probably not.
Not that it’s ever stress free, but since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down college athletics last March, football recruiting has remained in a “dead period,” meaning coaches cannot have face-to-face contact with any prospects.
It’s been a road block no college coach anywhere in the country ever anticipated.
“It takes longer to create relationships with kids now,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz.
In a normal year, Bison coaches would have anywhere from about six to 12 in-person communication opportunities with a recruit, whether it be a junior day, summer camp, official visit or game day visit.
That has all been traded in for phone calls or virtual Zoom interactions.
“You’re trying to maximize that platform, just like everybody else is,” Entz said.
That platform has also taken the place of a campus visit, the recruiting mechanism designed to close the deal on a potential recruit. Entz said it’s particularly important for a school like NDSU in a location like Fargo, a city that many recruits never see until they get here.
“When people come here,” Entz said, “it always surprises and blows every stereotype out of the water when it comes to our community.”
On a visit, the NDSU coaches are able to sell the campus, the academics, the facilities and the town. The recruit is able to interact with players, who are designated to show them the school and city.
Now, it’s almost like a car salesman trying to sell a car without a sales lot. On the flipside, recruits have been able to do academic tours and meetings but that’s been about it. If they come to NDSU, it has to be on their own dime and time.
“We just can’t have any interaction as a football program,” Entz said. “That’s been tough. There have been kids from all over the country in our community and unfortunately our hands are tied.”
There have been a couple of accidental run-ins, Entz admitted. A couple times he’s left his office at the Fargodome only to see a recruit walking around the dome looking at the facility. But even in those situations it’s a “hi, how are you” and that’s about it.
Entz said his staff is relying on more senior season tape than it ever has. With the dead period, coaches are not permitted to watch high school football games in person, with the exception being Entz being able to watch his son, junior Kellen Entz, who plays for West Fargo Sheyenne. Kellen Entz has received recruiting attention on Twitter from NDSU, University of South Dakota and Northern State (S.D.).
Still, the Bison have 15 verbal commitments in advance of the Dec. 16 early-signing day. Mandan defensive tackle Jaxon Duttenhefer was the first in late March.
It’s one thing to get local players like Fargo Davies fullback Truman Werremeyer, Sheyenne running back Barika Kpeenu and Fargo South running back/defensive back Sibomana Enock. But the Bison also got commitments from two players in Missouri, one in Georgia and one in Florida.
And when NDSU does finalize its recruiting class on Dec. 16, Entz anticipates that will be it. It’s doubtful the Bison will bring anybody else in for the regular signing date in February. For one, NDSU will be in game preparation mode for the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener on Feb. 21 against Youngstown State.
Moreover, future roster management poses to be a challenge with this year being a wash for player eligibility. The NCAA ruled that this season will not count toward a player’s five-year clock.
“It’s a balancing act, so we’ve already started having those conversations with our players,” Entz said. “We’re advocating for all of them to use all of their eligibility but that doesn’t necessarily fit in their plans, either.”
For instance, some players may graduate. Some may decide they’re too far down the depth chart to continue in a strenuous program. Some walkons may decide they can’t afford another year of school.
“It will dramatically affect our class this year,” Entz said of the NCAA ruling.
Entz said his biggest concern is the 2022 recruiting class and the numbers the Bison will be able to sign.
“Of course we’re going to recruit the talent level, that is never going to be sacrificed,” he said. “It’s just, will there be as many commitments in that early signing day as normal?”
In recruiting these days, there have been more questions than answers.
Bison verbal commitments:
Barika Kpeenu, 5-10, 185, RB, West Fargo Sheyenne
Sibomana Enock, 6-0, 185, RB/DB, Fargo South
Truman Werremeyer, 6-1, 220, FB, Fargo Davies
Jaxon Duttenhefer, 6-3, 275, OL/DL, Mandan
Finn Diggins, 6-5, 215, QB, Perham
Sam Henry, 6-6, 270, OL, Eden Prairie
Cole Payton, 6-3, 210, QB, Omaha Westside
Alex Oechsner, 5-10, 175, WR/DB, Waukesha
Kayden Warren, 6-4, 240, OL/DL, Rice Lake
Cam Devine, 6-4, 225, RB/LB, Brookfield
Logan Kopp, 6-0, 200, RB/LB, St. Louis
Reginald King, 6-3, 190, WR/DB, Grandview
Kody Huisman, 6-4, 245, DL, Pella
Nasir Howell, 6-1, 170, DB, Kennesaw
Britton Pascoe, 6-0, 180, DB, Valrico