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Bison RB Kobe Johnson leaves team, wants Power Five opportunity

NDSU football will lose a team captain who said he was going to return for another season.

North Dakota State's Kobe Johnson slices his way to score a touchdown against South Dakota State during the NCAA FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — The 2022 North Dakota State football team will go down as one that finished runner-up in the Division I FCS national championship game. It will also go down as the team that was stripped of multiple players via the NCAA transfer portal.

The latest was a team captain. Running back Kobe Johnson, who earlier this season said he was coming back for his fifth year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will enter the transfer portal for his final season. NDSU will bid goodbye to a player who set the school record for longest rush from scrimmage when he went 97 yards against Indiana State in 2021.

That brings to 12 the number of Bison players who entered the transfer portal since the season began, although seven would be considered impact players: running back Dom Gonnella, defensive backs Courtney Eubanks, Marques Sigle and Dom Jones and wide receivers DJ Hart and Phoenix Sproles and Johnson.

Johnson earlier said he was returning for his extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sources told The Forum he left on positive terms and his goal is to play for a Power Five football program.

North Dakota State's Kobe Johnson is leaving the Bison football program to try to join a Power Five conference team, sources told The Forum.
David Samson/ The Forum

He was an instant hit in the Bison backfield, being named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer team as a true freshman in 2019. He returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, which stands as the sixth longest in school history.


He did that one better in his long sprint against Indiana State.

It appeared Johnson was destined to finish his career at NDSU. That will no longer be the case.

"I never imagined I'd be writing a letter like this," Johnson said on his Twitter account, "but after a lot of thought and consideration I have decided to close my career here at NDSU. ... This decision was not an easy one but I feel I made the best one for my future."

His departure most likely puts the Bison running back load on the shoulders of senior TaMerik Williams. Backup TK Marshall will return after getting meaningful carries during the season. NDSU sprinkled in redshirt freshmen Barika Kpeenu and Owen Johnson during the season.

Johnson will finish his Bison career with 48 games played. He had 381 carries for 2,563 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averaged an impressive 6.7 yards per carry, including perhaps his signature a 76-yard touchdown run against Montana State in the 2021 national title game that gave NDSU an eventual insurmountable 21-0 lead.

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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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