Bison running back depth takes hit with Seth Wilson suffering season-ending knee injury

The Bison are down to five healthy running backs — sophomore Kobe Johnson, redshirt freshman Jalen Bussey and true freshmen Dominic Gonnella, TK Marshall and Nate Goldade

North Dakota State running back Seth Wilson (22) takes a hit early in the game against Youngstown State on Sunday, Feb. 21, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — North Dakota State junior running back Seth Wilson has been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury, Bison head coach Matt Entz announced Tuesday, Feb. 23, during his weekly press conference.

"Seth won't be playing the rest of the year, unfortunately, a season-ending injury," Entz said.

The Bison are down to five healthy running backs — sophomore Kobe Johnson, redshirt freshman Jalen Bussey and true freshmen Dominic Gonnella, TK Marshall and Nate Goldade — heading into Saturday's Missouri Valley Football Conference road game against Southern Illinois in Carbondale. No. 1-ranked NDSU (2-0, 1-0 MVFC) has won 39 consecutive games heading its matchup with the Salukis.

“The positive is Jalen and Kobe have quite a bit of playing experience," Entz said. “At least those guys have some proven reps and they’re prepared to go.”

Johnson and Gonnella were listed 1-2 on the depth chart for the game against the Salukis. Johnson got the bulk of the workload in Sunday's 25-7 home victory against Youngstown State, rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts. Bussey added 43 rushing yards and two touchdowns on six attempts. Gonnella rushed for 35 yards on seven carries.


North Dakota State's Kobe Johnson leaps into the endzone on a 15-yard touchdown run against Youngstown State at the Fargodome on Sunday, Feb. 21. David Samson / The Forum

Bison running back DJ Stewart on Tuesday announced via Twitter he was entering the transfer portal. Stewart is the second NDSU back who has entered the transfer portal this season joining senior running back Adam Cofield, who transferred to FBS Western Kentucky after playing against Central Arkansas last fall.

“DJ felt like this wasn’t the right place or didn’t feel like he was getting used appropriately, that’s his decision," Entz said. “I wish him the best of luck.”

Wilson was injured early in Sunday's victory against Youngstown State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome in the Missouri Valley spring season opener. The 5-foot-10, 191-pound Wilson was hurt on his second carry of the game on the opening drive. He gained eight yards on those two carries.

"You hate to see injuries, any injury, but a young man who has worked so hard to get back," Entz said. “Just a freak contact injury on the second play of the first game of the spring.”


Wilson missed the entire 2019 season with a knee injury before he returned to game action last October when the Bison played Central Arkansas their lone game in the fall season, a 39-28 victory against the Bears. Wilson rushed for 55 yards on seven carries in that game.

Wilson's most recent knee injury could also cause him to miss the 2021 fall season with the FCS scheduled to play two seasons in one calendar year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would anticipate, just with recovery, it’ll be difficult to be prepared for the start of fall," Entz said. “That’s the concerning piece about it all."

Johnson, Bussey and Gonnella are the only three Bison running backs who have carried the ball in their careers. Marshall and Goldade, a West Fargo Sheyenne graduate, have yet to carry the ball in a college game. Entz said he expects Bison offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl and running backs coach Joe Beschorner to have that young group of backs prepared for Saturday.

North Dakota State's Zeb Noland hands off to Dominic Gonnella against Youngstown State during their football game Sunday, Feb. 21, in the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

“I think youth is always a concern, but that’s why they call you coach. You’ve got to get them ready to go and I know coach Beschorner, coach Roehl, our offensive staff will put those guys in a good situation," Entz said.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Johnson has 111 career rushing attempts, the 5-5, 161-pound Bussey has 12 career carries and the 5-11, 205-pound Gonnella has seven heading into the game against Southern Illinois.


The Bison could look to spread some of the rushing load to fullback Hunter Luepke. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Luepke, who didn't play against Youngstown State, rushed for 27 yards and a touchdown and also caught a TD pass in NDSU's win against Central Arkansas last October.

Luepke was listed atop the depth chart at fullback for Saturday's game.

“I think he’s very versatile," Entz said of Luepke. “We’ll try to find the best spot where he can help us win.”

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
What To Read Next
Get Local