MOORHEAD-Minnesota State Moorhead head coach Steve Laqua had a strategic reason for the 60 signings his football program announced Wednesday on national signing day.
Laqua thinks this group can bolster the depth for two recruiting classes, since he expects 10 to 15 of the incoming recruits to play as true freshmen next fall.
"We want to have a big senior class when this group is done. We want to be able to augment last year's (redshirt) class," Laqua said. "Some of our strategy was targeting those kids that want to get their school done in four years."
With more high school kids taking college-level courses in high school, Laqua said there are some recruits who want to be done with college in four years and don't want to redshirt.
"I think that's doable, especially in the special teams department," Laqua said of true freshmen being able to contribute in their first season. "We have had a track record of getting kids developed where they can play early. We've played a lot of young kids as our talent level has continued to get better. ... I think we have a recipe in developing young kids quickly and throughout the season."
The Dragons added 60 players to their program, including six walk-ons. The long-term goal is to create larger senior classes. In recent seasons, MSUM has had senior classes with the amount of players totaling in the teens. Laqua wants that number to grow into the 20s in the future.
"We know that you can be successful at Division II when you have a big senior class in the 20-to-25 range," Laqua said.
Laqua said defensive back is one area the Dragons targeted in this class and thinks there are players in that group who can contribute next fall. Jordan Burg from Caledonia, Minn., Alec Goffard from Appleton, Wis., and Jermiare Ratliff Jr. are players who could challenge for playing time as true freshmen.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Burg and 6-foot-2, 205-pound Goffard are projected to play safety, while the 6-foot, 160-pound Ratliff will likely play cornerback.
"I think athletically those guys really jump out," Laqua said. "Defensive backs was our big area of focus. We felt like didn't have enough depth there and we needed to update our talent there. It feels like that's been area that has been our Achilles' heel the last few years."
Slot wide receiver is another position where the Dragons will likely look at first-year players to provide depth and contribute next fall. Trent Marquart from Glenburn, N.D., and Zane Miller of Grand Forks Central could both push for playing time.
"Someone is going to have to jump to the forefront there," Laqua said of the incoming crop of slot receivers.
Linebacker James Eggert, from Moorhead High School, is another player who could play early in his career, especially on special teams. Laqua said the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Eggert also has strong intangibles.
"He's just one of those guys who has been the backbone of every team that he's been on," Laqua said.
Laqua said the new early December signing period for Division I football teams made things clearer at the Division II level, which does not have an early signing period for football.
"I was surprised that the first Division I signing (period) basically everyone finished or at least 90 percent was finished. I thought that number was going to be more on the two-thirds range," Laqua said. "There was no confusion after that who was left as Division II players. ... More recruits became proactive about taking Division II visits."
Laqua said he likes the overall makeup of the incoming class. He thinks the group's mindset fits the program's culture.
"We tried to scare a lot of these guys away by telling them how hard college football is and they still wanted to come. That's what excites me," Laqua said. "I think they signed up for the right reasons."
Complete signings list
Jake Belongia (WR, 5-8, 180, New Berlin, Wis./New Berlin HS)
Mickey Brown (DL, 6-3, 325, La Grange, Ill./Lyons Township HS)
Billy Brown (FB, 6-0, 230, Rice Lake, Wis./Rice Lake HS)
Jordan Burg (DB, 6-1, 190, Caledonia, Minn./Caledonia HS)
Troy Casperson (OL, 6-4, 275, Plymouth, Minn./Armstrong HS)
Theo Chwala (FB, 6-0, 200, Stanley, Wis./Stanley-Boyd HS)
Jack DeWulf (DB, 6-0, 175, Nevis, Minn./Nevis HS)
Beau Driscoll (DB, 6-2, 180, Sherwood, N.D./Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood HS)
Drew Dunham (LB, 6-2, 200, Omaha, Neb./Creighton Prep HS)
James Eggert (LB, 5-11, 205, Moorhead, Minn./Moorhead HS)
Jackson Faller (DL, 6-3, 265, Arnegard, N.D./Watford City HS)
Jacob Fleming (DL, 6-3, 240, Palatine, Ill./Fremd HS)
Michael Franks (DB, 5-11, 175, Bradenton, Fla./Bayshore HS)
Alec Goffard (DB, 6-2, 205, Appleton, Wis./Appleton West HS)
Larry Graham (DB, 5-7, 165, Boys Town, Neb./Boys Town HS)
Quinn Halstengard (LB, 6-0, 195, Mandan, N.D./Mandan HS)
Collin Haar (DB, 5-9, 170, Aberdeen, S.D./Central HS)
Ryan Harvey-Turner (WR, 6-3, 190, Milwaukee, Wis./Oak Creek HS)
Nathaniel Hill (DB, 5-8, 170, Brooklyn Park, Minn./Champlin Park HS)
Matthew Hinds (Hines) (OL, 6-5, 265, Bowbells, N.D./Bowbells HS)
Tyson Hoelscher (TE, 6-3, 240, Alexandria, Minn./Alexandria HS)
Conner Hoenke (WR, 5-9, 165, Dickinson, N.D./Dickinson HS)
Jack Hoffman (OL, 6-6, 295, Watertown, S.D./Watertown HS)
Nic Johnson (DB, 5-9, 170, Cromwell, Minn./Cromwell-Wright HS)
Junior Kai (DB, 5-10, 161, Brooklyn Park, Minn./Brooklyn Center HS)
Justin Kolzow (QB, 6-3, 195, Willowbrook, Ill./Hinsdale South HS)
Joshua Krajacic (DL, 6-2, 220, Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley HS)
Christian Leist (DL, 6-2, 230, Greenville, Wis./Hortonville HS)
Landon Lundquist (WR, 5-9, 180, Aberdeen, S.D./Central HS)
Trent Marquart (WR, 5-9, 165, Glenburn, N.D./Glenburn HS)
Calvin Maske (FB, 5-11. 235, Pequot Lakes, Minn./Pequot Lakes HS)
Deon McMahan (DB, 6-2, 185, Coon Rapids, Minn./Coon Rapids HS)
Zane Miller (WR, 5-8, 180, Grand Forks, N.D./Central HS)
Blake Ochsendorf (P, 6-6, 215, Savage, Minn./Prior Lake HS)
Daniel Olson (OL, 6-4, 230, Washburn, N.D./Washburn HS)
Dustin Olson (OL, 6-4, 290, Battle Lake, Minn./Battle Lake HS)
Andy Peterson (K, 5-7, 165, Maple Grove, Minn./Maple Grove HS)
Randy Petrbok (DL, 6-3, 215, Addison, Ill./Addison Trail HS)
Easton Phalin (WR, 5-10, 175, Tomahawk, Wis./Tomahawk HS)
Matthew Plieseis (K/P, 6-2, 180, Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson HS)
Jermiare Ratliff Jr. (DB, 6-0, 160, Flossmoor, Ill./Homewood Flossmoor HS
Zayne Rodencal (RB, 5-11, 205, New London, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran HS)
Alexander Ruff (OL, 6-4, 270, Wishek, N.D./Wishek HS)
Solomon Sangobowale (DB, 5-11, 175, Itasca, Ill./Lake Park HS)
Ben Schelhaas (LB, 6-0, 205, Sioux Falls, S.D./Washington HS)
Keenan Schissel (OL, 6-5, 220, Brooklyn Park, Minn./Champlin Park HS)
Riley Schulz (DB, 6-1, 160, Watertown, S.D./Watertown HS)
DeMarkus Singletary (DB, 6-1, 188, Romeoville, Ill./Plainfield East HS)
Brett Skarda (WR, 6-5, 190, Watford City, N.D./Watford City HS)
Gerald Smith (DL, 6-2, 198, Boys Town, Neb./Boys Town HS)
Brad Stewart (DL, 6-3, 225, Hallock, Minn./Kittson County Central HS)
Jarred Taylor (DB, 5-9, 180, St. Louis, Mo./Chaminade College Prep HS)
Blake Wilkins (DB, 6-0, 187, Brooklyn Center, Minn./Park Center HS)
Victor Yang (WR, 5-8, 165, St. Paul, Minn./Roseville Area HS)
Gabe Buehler (DL, 6-2, 230, Fargo, N.D./North HS)
Kyree Hazelton (DB, 5-10, 180, Boys Town, Neb./Boys Town HS)
Nick Herink (DL, 6-1, 230, Fremont, Neb./Archbishop Bergan HS)
Jared Palluck (LB, 5-11, 200, Davenport, N.D./Kindred HS)
Garret Sphatt (DL, 6-0, 230, Fond du Lac, Wis./Fond du Lac HS)
Zach Stelzer (LB, 6-0, 204, Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville South HS)