A new era of North Dakota State football will begin Wednesday as the Bison open spring ball for 2019. It has been an eventful two plus months for Matt Entz as head coach, from finishing the 2019 recruiting class to heading to Washington, D.C. to be honored by President Trump. Now the real work begins as NDSU has some questions to answer over the next month and fifteen practices.
The biggest question is quarterback. For the first time since 2010 there is a quarterback battle at NDSU. With Easton Stick’s graduation, there now is a hole as to who will take over as the Bison signal caller. Every indicator during the fall pointed to freshman phenom Trey Lance being the guy, and that is the odds-on favorite. NDSU did bring in transfer Zeb Noland, who will we see the first time this spring to provide some competition. Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders are still on the roster, but I believe this is a two-horse race at QB.
The Bison running back situation will be interesting to follow this spring. With Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn moving on, who becomes the “lead back”? Ty Brooks, Adam Cofield, Seth Wilson and Saybein Clark return to that position. I would look for Wilson to become the guy, but watch for Clark too. He got in four games last season and has the frame to be a special player at that spot.
The offensive line graduated the best center in the FCS in Tanner Volson along with three year starter Colin Conner, those are two big holes to replace. Having both tackles back is a nice start with Zack Johnson entering his third year starting along with All-American candidate Dillon Radunz back on the left side. Matt Entz has promised “some interesting combinations” on the O-line, so that’s something to watch this month. Cordell Volson, Nash Jensen, Joe Schreiber and Karson Schoening are names that Bison fans should be familiar with, I believe each are going to play and maybe a lot this fall.
Wide receiver is a real question mark. There is no proven player returning at that spot after the graduations of Darrius Shepherd and Dallas Freeman. There is only one senior in the group, Jimmy Kepouros, who played sparingly in 2018. Christian Watson and Phoenix Sproles earned Stick’s trust later in the season, it’s going to be interesting to watch if they have that confidence in the spring. DJ Stewart redshirted all of 2018, while Zach Mathis did get in the regular season finale with Mo State. Two players to watch there.
Tight end has Ben Ellefson back which is a great spot to be in, after that there’s some real questions. Josh Babicz played a lot last year, but didn’t catch any passes. I thought Noah Gindorff would break thru, but didn’t see the field a lot. We’ll watch each of them this spring.
On defense, Derrek Tuszka is back for his senior year. I’m curious who lines up opposite him. One would think it would be freshman standout Spencer Waege, I think Waege could be moved inside, so Logan McCormick could be up. Remember McCormick played as a true freshman, then got that year back playing just four games in 2018. One to definitely watch this spring.
The interior D-line has some questions with Aaron Steidl moving on. Cole Karcz had a great junior season and is set to break out in 2019. Who lines up next to him? This could be Waege, or fifth year senior Jack Darnell? Lane Tucker played sporadically last year, is he ready? Matt Biegler also got in and with Quinn Alo being moved to the O-line there are some holes at that position.
Linebacker has some openings as well. Do we see Defensive player of the year Jabril Cox move inside? Cox is a dominant force on the outside. Dan Marlette and Levi Jordheim developed into really good players by the time of their senior years, so NDSU has to find the next crop. Aaron Mercadel missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL, he was expected to see the field more last year. We’ll see if he can get take the next step, not sure if he’ll be available this spring. Jackson Hankey played well in his role last fall and can be the next North Dakota product playing well in the middle. Jaxon Brown also stepped in to his new role at linebacker last year, while Mark Stumpf and Jasir Cox both played as true freshman, are they ready for bigger roles?
The secondary has to replace an all-timer in Robbie Grimsley, but they’re in a good spot. At cornerback are two players that started the 2018 title game, Josh Hayes and Marquise Bridges. NDSU should feel good there. James Hendricks has developed into one of the top defensive players in the conference, he’s back at free safety, while Michael Tutsie appears to be the guy set to take over for Grimsley. Tutsie’s game-changing ability has already been on display in small samples last season.
NDSU will have a new kicker for the first time in four years this fall. Cam Pedersen is gone and an open competition is there. Jake Reinholz returns, while NDSU brought in a recruited kicker in Griffin Crosa from Ohio. He’s been on campus since January, his older brother Sam, is the kicker at Western Illinois. Garret Wegner was one of the best success stories on the Bison in 2019, who developed into a very solid punter for the Bison by the end of the season.
This spring will be the first in a while where some real positions are up for grabs. The next month will be interesting to watch.