FARGO — Two athletes this week indicated their intent to transfer to North Dakota State and play for the Bison football team, news that a couple of years ago would've seemed out of place for a program that long prided itself on recruiting and developing high school players.
Tight end Gabe Lloyd of Wisconsin and running back TaMerik Williams of Southern Methodist announced on Twitter they'd transfer to the Bison. Including former Virginia Tech quarterback Quincy Patterson III and ex-Minnesota State Mankato defensive end Brayden Thomas, that's four transfers going to NDSU in the last three months.
That might be more transfers than the Bison have taken in the last three years.
NDSU willingness to take transfers is neither unexpected nor something that's going to stop anytime soon. It's happening because of the Bison's success in recruiting and developing high-level Football Championship Subdivision players who are attractive to Football Bowl Subdivision schools, and because of the new landscape of college football in which athletes have more freedom to transfer.
And that freedom is going to become even more pronounced in the next several months when the NCAA approves a one-time transfer rule that will allow college athletes to move from one school to another one time without penalty.
Bison head coach Matt Entz has said for months he would probably have to explore taking more transfers because his program couldn't afford to lose players who were going to be seniors and replace them with freshmen. Star linebacker Jabril Cox left NDSU after his junior year to play for LSU and starting running back Adam Cofield did the same when he transferred to Western Kentucky.
Due to the pandemic, senior offensive tackle Dillon Radunz decided to forgo the current spring season to enter the NFL Draft and sophomore quarterback Trey Lance also left the Bison for the NFL.
Schools like Illinois State and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Football Conference are facing similar issues, although both of those programs have depended more heavily on transfers in the past than NDSU. South Dakota State lost star receiver Cade Johnson to the NFL Draft, too.
"There could be the potential down the road that we may have to take a few transfers," Entz said during the Missouri Valley Football Conference coaches call prior to the spring season. "Every time you lose a young man, unfortunately, you don't want to replace him with a freshman or you're never going to have any veteran feel to your football team."
Combine the transfers and early departures with injuries — most notably to starting junior running back Seth Wilson in the first spring game against Youngstown State, which will also keep him out of the 2021 fall season and might end his career — and NDSU felt the need to pick up transfers to fill holes.
It's not an unusual tactic at FCS programs, even the ones at the highest level of the subdivision. James Madison has long taken a handful of transfers each year, the Illinois State team the Bison played in the 2014 national title game had a key FBS transfer at quarterback in the uber-talented Tre Roberson and the Jacksonville State team NDSU played in the title game in 2015 was loaded with transfers from the Southeastern Conference.
The signing of Williams, at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, appears to fill NDSU's need for a bigger, stronger running back after Cofield's departure and Wilson's injury. The Bison have two talented backs in Kobe Johnson and Jalen Bussey, but their game is speed and elusiveness.
Lloyd's signing is less clear-cut, considering he's a tight end joining a team with a couple of talented and experienced tight ends. Lloyd's father Doug played for the Bison in the Division II glory days of the 1980s, and Gabe originally committed to NDSU in 2015 before flipping to Wisconsin.
Patterson's transfer looks important now because fifth-year senior Zeb Noland is struggling this spring. Noland has said he intends to return in the fall, but if he can't get on track there is an increasing likelihood Patterson would be the favorite to be the starter.
Given NDSU's issues along the offensive line this spring — the Bison's running game was invisible in a loss to Southern Illinois, leading to moving some players to different positions — don't be surprised if a transfer or two join the Bison in that position group. NDSU coaches like their young offensive linemen like Mason Miller and Grey Zabel but feel they need more seasoning before becoming starters.
The Bison have also had problems in the secondary this spring, although its play was improved in a victory at Missouri State, and maybe they will add a player at cornerback, too.
NDSU's roster got jumbled by the pandemic and players deciding to leave early or transfer. The base of talent is still there, but there are key positions where the Bison are short. Transfers will likely fill the gaps.
It's a new thing, but not unexpected, for NDSU. And like it or not, it's here to stay.