FARGO — North Dakota State may have not gotten its first choice for a kicker recruit when Stanford offered Fargo Shanley’s Emmet Kenney. But the Bison may have landed their choice when it comes to another important position on special teams.
Mike Florentine, a long snapper from Frankfort, Ill., verbally committed to NDSU this week taking the Bison over FBS Northern Illinois. He also listed offers from Army and Bowling Green on his Twitter feed.
In what is becoming somewhat common in the era of COVID-19, Florentine committed without taking an official visit to campus. He did drive to Fargo about two months ago with his father to check out the facilities and the NDSU academics.
“It surprised me, I wasn’t expecting everything to be as nice and new as it was,” Florentine said.
The state of Illinois is not playing high school football this fall, instead deferring the season to the spring. Florentine will be going from one traditionally winning program to another; his Lincoln-Way East High School won the Illinois Class 8A state title last year.
“That feeling was unmatched,” he said. “That and my commitment have been my two highlights the past two years.”
Like kickers, Florentine took the summer camp route to getting a Division I scholarship. He aligned with Rubio Long Snapping under the guidance of Chris Rubio, who so far in the 2021 recruiting class has had prospects commit to Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, Penn State and Georgia.
Last year, Rubio-taught long snappers committed to well over 100 colleges. Florentine said he attended eight Rubio camps since his junior season. For the technical part of it, Florentine recorded a snap speed (the time from first movement to the ball getting to the punter’s hand) at a camp in Las Vegas this year of .72 seconds.
“That goal is to get below .75,” he said.
And if all goes well at NDSU, fans may never know his name. It’s been the same with senior Ross Kennelly, who is in his fifth year in the Bison program. Kennelly is a two-year starter who was recruited as a linebacker but made the move to full-time long snapper.
Florentine, on the other hand, is coming to NDSU only as a long snapper. It’s uncertain if Kennelly will use his extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic NCAA ruling, but it appears the timing of landing a long snapper was paramount for the Bison.
“That played a factor into it,” Florentine said. “Even without that I think I found the right place. I just like the whole way North Dakota State sets you up after football in college. And play it’s a very big winning tradition.”
NDSU’s tradition wasn’t the only time that worked to the Bison’s favor this week. Safety Ryan Jones from Rick Reedy High School in Frisco, Texas, has seen NDSU on the field at Toyota Stadium in the FCS national championship game starting with the 2011 title against Sam Houston State.
“I’ve been watching the Bison come to Frisco since that first championship,” Jones said on Hot Mic with Dom Izzo.
He was on the field in the last two title games as part of a contingent of high school players holding the flag for the national anthem. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Jones took NDSU, which offered in April, over FBS schools Wyoming, Air Force, Navy and Army and multiple FCS offers.
Like Florentine, Jones had to take his own unofficial visit to Fargo to tour the campus and the city. It was a vision that was first planted when he was in elementary school. Reedy High School is about 10 minutes from Toyota Stadium.
“I’ve experienced the fans first hand down in Frisco,” he said. “Everyone knows here when the Bison fans came to town because it’s totally packed.”
Florentine and Jones make it 17 the number of verbal commitments for the 2021 class.
Meanwhile, the NDSU roster continues to fluctuate a bit in advance of the spring FCS season. Sophomore defensive tackle Dylan Evans, who played just two games last season, put his name into the NCAA transfer portal.