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Bison go against spring football trend and get physical

With younger team, NDSU did more live tackling to address tackling issue

North Dakota State's Jalen Sundell makes contact during practice at the Nodak Insurance Football Performance Complex on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

FARGO — The decision was made on the flight back from Frisco, Texas. Or even before that, on the bus ride to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. North Dakota State had just lost its first Division I FCS national championship game after nine straight wins at Toyota Stadium.

It was the third defeat of the season and one of the common denominators in at least the first two losses was tackling issues in the 31-28 loss at the University of Arizona and the 23-21 regular season defeat to South Dakota State. So in looking ahead and planning for spring football, the Bison coaches made a determination that goes against the modern trend of practice this time of year: Do more tackling, not less.

Head coach Matt Entz said after Saturday’s workout his team did 130 snaps of tackle football over the course of the first 12 practices.

“That’s more than we’ve ever had before,” said Entz, in his 10th year at NDSU. “We needed it, though. I like where we’re at, we’re getting better but better doesn’t mean good, it just means we’re improved.”

That analysis came with only one week of spring ball remaining. And diving further into it, he didn’t like the way his team didn’t finish in the fourth quarters in the losses to Arizona and SDSU.


“I think you are what you tolerate,” he said. “We’re not going to be an average tackling team and we’re not going to be unable to finish in the fourth quarter.”

The risk, certainly, with a more physical tone to spring practice is injuries. Entz said he knew there would be players susceptible to getting banged up, but the Bison defense is also relatively inexperienced, especially in the secondary with untested cornerbacks and safeties.

“We needed to shake some things up,” he said. “But we went into it with an understanding that everyone was going to do something during practice. It may not be all the reps but everyone was going to continue to get better.”

Specifically, he wanted to find out if players like safeties Ryan Jones, Sam Jung and Darius Givance and cornerbacks Marcus Sheppard and Reggie King could tackle in live situations. With three practices remaining, Entz said the live tackling is done.

NDSU concludes spring practice this Saturday, although there is one college football trend that Entz is continuing: no spring game and no event to march out in front of the public.

After perennially being one of the top scoring defenses in the FCS since the title run started in 2011, the Bison slipped in that category last season giving up an average of 20.2 points per game. That was almost double the 11.1 ppg game the team gave up in the 2021 championship season.

“I like where we’re at, but we still have a ways to go,” Entz said.

So far, NDSU hasn’t had any type of serious injuries in practice. A few are sitting out with various injuries like a thumb issue to quarterback Cole Payton. He may return this week. Linebacker Cole Wisniewski sat out Saturday’s practice, and it still remains to be determined what position he’ll start fall camp at.


He’s been working at safety during spring ball.

“Wisniewski plays defense right now,” Entz said with a grin, not wanting to pin a position on him right now. “You have to find ways to get your best 11 to 15 guys on the field and there has been a little position flexibility.”

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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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