Kolpack: How many of Bison football's 16 seniors would return for another year? Probably not many

North Dakota State's Matt Biegler, left and diving for a fumble against South Dakota State last year, is one senior who could return in 2021. David Samson / Forum News Service


The news from the NCAA that this year of football will not count toward anybody’s eligibility is one for the imagination. There are 16 seniors on the North Dakota State roster and what if all 16 wanted to return next year?

The NCAA says those 16 wouldn’t count toward the Division I FCS maximum of 63 scholarships, meaning NDSU in theory could have 79 full rides next year. And what about roster size?

There are 123 players on this month’s roster. Add an average class of 25 incoming freshmen and there, in theory, could be about 150 players in fall camp next August.

Looking ahead, what if every current player wanted to play another year? Mindboggling.


It will never happen because of attrition, common sense, guys graduating and budget. It could be interesting after the 2021 season with NDSU’s current juniors — if any of them want to play in 2022.

How will the Bison coaching staff handle it? Do like Wisconsin and say you’re done no matter what? A case-by-case basis?

Note to NDSU Team Makers, the booster club that raises money for scholarships: The NCAA ruling may not be that big of a deal.

It seems the number of seniors who would take another year would be minimal, and minimal on your budget.

It may be less than a handful of players.

The seniors who will make this their final year can be broken down into three groups: The backups or walkons who will graduate and move on, the select few who will train for the next level and a few in the two-deep roster who want to play another year.

Head coach Matt Entz didn’t care to get into the specifics of who may or may not come back, at least not until after the Oct. 3 Central Arkansas game. What we do not know is who is on scholarship and who is not but, what the heck, let’s take a shot at it.

The seniors least likely to return are the backups who play in the trenches, guys who bust their tail in the physicality of practice but don’t see a whole lot of reward on game day.


They’re vital to any successful team, of course, because of practice bodies and pushing the starters. That group would include offensive guard Quinn Alo, defensive tackle Michael Buetow and offensive tackle Josh Howieson.

Linebacker Aaron Mercadel has already announced he will not return. Plus next year would be the start of his seventh year of college, rivaling a couple of my college friends who spent almost a decade in higher education.

Offensive tackle Dillon Radunz is an obvious bet to train for the NFL. Offensive tackle Cordell Volson can’t be far behind.

That trims the list to 10.

Would another year be enough to keep the specialists around? Punter Garret Wegner, long snapper Ross Kennelly and punt returner Trevor Heit are fifth-year seniors. Maybe not, unless Kennelly wants to continue the trade for a shot at the NFL.

Backup linebacker Beau Pauly sounds like he’s moving on with life.

That leaves six.

Running back Adam Cofield is in his fifth year and if he ever wanted to give pro ball a shot, getting banged up in 2021 may not be the way to go. Same for starting center Karson Schoening, who may want to take the NDSU offensive line NFL-caliber reputation with the likes of Billy Turner, Joe Haeg, Tanner Volson and Radunz and give it a shot.


That leaves four.

Fifth-year quarterback Zeb Noland is an interesting case study. He transferred to NDSU last season after getting beat out of a starting job at Iowa State. He competed with redshirt freshman Trey Lance for the starting job in the spring and fall of 2019 with Lance winning the job.

There’s no shame in that, of course, taking the No. 2 job behind a potential first-round draft pick. So would Noland, who graduated last December and has career sights set on coaching, remain in school until December of 2021 to prove that he can be The Guy in a Division I offense?

That’s assuming Lance moves on to the NFL, which isn’t a certainty. It may depend on if Noland gets to play this spring and how that goes. Seems to be a lot of factors in play here, maybe too many.

That leaves cornerback Josh Hayes, offensive guard Zach Kubas and defensive tackle Matt Biegler and the belief here is all three will return in the fall of 2021.

Hayes played as a true freshman and another year of development could only help his NFL resume. He is slated to be that unofficial “shutdown corner” this season and proving that over two years would be big.

Biegler was a walkon from Underwood, Minn., who worked his way into the lineup from the back of the pack. It was a long haul and one he may not want to give up just yet. Same with Kubas and he may have an added family incentive — to play another year with his brother Jake Kubas.

Their father, Monte Kubas, also played for NDSU. When you bleed that much Bison football, it’s hard to walk away from the game.

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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