FARGO — It’s doubtful North Dakota State will use the true freshman eligibility of more than one player this season, at least if the season opener against the University of Albany was any indication. Long snapper Mike Florentine may be it.
There was an immediate need at the position with the graduation of Ross Kennelly and sophomore Logan Hofstedt being unavailable. There were no glaring errors in Florentine’s first day on the job.
“I’ve learned a ton,” said Florentine, from Frankfort, Ill. “I’m truly blessed to be in an environment that is surrounded by people that know a lot about the position because not a lot of people do.”
NDSU has a Division I FCS history of outstanding long snappers with Jeff Curtis, Michael Murphy, James Fisher and Kennelly. Around every four years, a new guy comes into the mix.
Curtis is still around helping as a volunteer and is the NDSU campus ministry director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“He helps me through my progression and everything,” Florentine said. “He acts as a second special teams coach and it’s a huge advantage to have.”
NDSU head coach Matt Entz said an emphasis with the young Florentine is not only about the snap, but what happens after it on a punt. Kennelly, who came to NDSU as a linebacker, was often one of the first players down on coverage.
“We expect the same thing,” Entz said. “We’ve asked him to mature at a quick rate and he has so far shown he can handle it.”
Change to No. 4 meaningful for Kobe
NDSU running back Kobe Johnson switched numbers this season and it didn’t come without meaning. His No. 4 is the same number he wore in high school in Lawrenceville, Ga., because his father, Eric Johnson, takes it to heart.
“My dad told me he loves No. 4 because it represents my two older brothers, myself and my younger sister,” Kobe said. “So that number means a lot to me in that regard.”
Johnson previously wore No. 24. The No. 4 was taken by senior running back Dimitri Williams in 2019 and quarterback Logan Graetz, who transferred to Minnesota Duluth, last spring.
The other number of significance for Johnson is 100, as in 100 percent healthy after suffering a knee injury last season. He played in six of the 10 games and finished as the team’s fourth leading rusher.
“We’re good now, we’re rolling now, yes sir,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting. The true test began Saturday. Going out there and cutting loose and being able to play at full speed again was a lot of fun.”
Johnson had 77 yards on 11 carries averaging 7.0 per attempt. He went over 1,000 career yards in the process and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry in his 21 career games.
NDSU’s triple threat on offense
The Albany game was perhaps the real debut for junior Hunter Luepke as not only the starting fullback but the triple threat option of a running back and tight end as well. Luepke was forced into a running back spot last spring because of injuries and responded with some big plays.
Against Albany, he had a seven-yard touchdown run in his two carries for 15 yards and caught a pass for 14 yards.
“I just want to hammer down my technique for blocking and getting as many looks as I can this season,” Luepke said.
He’s actually a little lighter this season at 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds. Asked about preparing for a team that lost to an NAIA opponent last week, Luepke quickly shifted the focus to his team.
“It’s all about us,” he said. “We have to get better every day in practice, that’s our mindset.”
Valpo nickname change came quick
It didn’t take long for Valparaiso to take action. The school officially changed its nickname in early August to the Beacons after the previous name, Crusaders, was retired last February because of a negative association with religious oppression and hate groups.
The school has for a long time been a target of possible change.
The university, in a release, said the Beacons connect to the university’s motto of “In Thy Light We See Light.” It’s also been the title of the school’s yearbook for the last 80 years.
The nickname was picked from a process that included nearly 1,000 suggestions and input from students, student-athletes, faculty, staff and alumni.
Head men’s basketball coach Matt Lottich told NWI.com newspaper that there will be former athletes who will still identify with Crusaders but changing the nickname was the right decision at the right time.
Etc. etc. etc.
- NDSU is 4-0 against teams from the Pioneer League. Besides the win over Valparaiso in 2004, the Bison defeated the University of San Diego twice in the playoffs and beat Butler in the 2019 season opener at Target Field in Minneapolis. The Missouri Valley Football Conference is 45-3 against the Pioneer.
- The last time Valparaiso played a ranked opponent was in 2016 when the Beacons lost 50-13 at Illinois State.
- Valpo head coach Landon Fox is in his third season with a 5-14 record, but was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award that goes to the FCS coach of the year with the Beacons’ 4-2 spring record, the best winning percentage since 2003. That included beating San Diego, snapping a 14-game losing streak against the Toreros.