ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Bison spring game brings five position battles to light

The annual North Dakota State Green vs. Gold spring game will be held Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Bison return 12 starters from last year's fourth straight FCS title team, but not all of those will play bec...

NDSU defensive back Jordan Champion grabs a pass Sunday, March 29, 2015, during spring football practice at Dacotah Field.David Samson / The Forum
NDSU defensive back Jordan Champion grabs a pass Sunday, March 29, 2015, during spring football practice at Dacotah Field.David Samson / The Forum

The annual North Dakota State Green vs. Gold spring game will be held Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Bison return 12 starters from last year's fourth straight FCS title team, but not all of those will play because of injury. Some notable players most likely being held out will be cornerback C.J. Smith, offensive guard Jeremy Kelly, offensive tackles Landon Lechler and Jack Plankers, defensive tackle Brian Schaetz and nose guard Nate Tanguay.

On that note, here are five position battles of note to keep an eye on:

• Backup cornerback. Seniors Smith and Jordan Champion are the unquestioned starters, but the Bison will not go through a season playing just two guys. Look for a pair of freshmen making their first start in a game-like situation in Dakota Reid and Jalen Allison. If Champion gets moved to a safety spot during a five defensive back look (nickel), at least one or both of those players will see the field a lot next fall.

• Dual-threat tight end. The word on sophomore tight end Jeff Illies last season was that he was more of a pass-catching tight end at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds than a full-time guy who could play on any down. This spring, he's getting rid of that knock with a better grasp of the run game. "He's getting so much better as a true hand-in-the-dirt tight end and if he can do that, it creates a lot of matchup problems because he can flex out and really run," said head coach Chris Klieman.

• Who is Caleb Butler? Everybody knows the Bison lost standout defensive ends Kyle Emanuel and Mike Hardie. Sophomore Greg Menard played more toward the end of the season and junior Brad Ambrosius has emerged after having his redshirt pulled as a true freshman. But the Bison will probably play at least four guys next fall. Sophomore Jarrod Tuszka has elevated his status this spring. The coaches are saying good things about freshman Caleb Butler. Who? He's a walk-on from Blaine High School in the Twin Cities who was second team all-state in football, but in a testament to athletic ability, was a conference champion in the 110-meter hurdles and shot put and finished third in the state meet in the discus. If the Bison football players had a decathlon competition, he might win it.

ADVERTISEMENT

• The next Adam Keller. Klieman said this week the kicker competition will go into fall camp, but it wouldn't hurt for somebody to have a good day. Junior Tom Barneson has been switching off with senior Ben LeCompte, who is in the mix to be the dual guy of punter and kicker. NDSU also has freshman recruit Cam Pedersen coming this fall. Freshman Ian Gallagher will also punt on Saturday. "I knew I could count on Keller," Klieman said. "Who are we going to count on?"

• Quarterback U. In the glimpse-into-the-future department, Carson Wentz will eventually graduate just like Brock Jensen did, and this spring, sophomore Cole Davis and freshman Easton Stick have been going neck-and-neck for the top backup spot. There is no clear-cut leader heading into the spring game. "Will they be able to throw an accurate pass with pressure in their face?" said quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg. "That's one thing we'll be looking at. And will they be able to take what the defense is going to give us and make plays at the line of scrimmage-process quickly at the line of scrimmage."

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.
What To Read Next
Area recreation scores and schedules.
Regional and local scores and schedules.
Olivia Dronen had five points, including her 100th varsity point, and nine other Moorhead players found the scoresheet as the Spuds advanced to Saturday's section semifinals.
WDAY Sports+ is live this Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m., with our Game of the Week between the Red River Roughriders and the Davies Eagles.