FARGO — The five days of North Dakota State football practice when a decision is normally made on a player playing as a true freshman came and went this week. Nothing happened.
And if that remains the case, it will be the second straight season NDSU will have redshirted its entire freshman class. It’s turning into a historical period of sorts in the 13-year history of Division I football at the school.
Last year was the first in the FCS era when an entire class was redshirted. And to possibly go back-to-back on the concept?
“We’re having great retention and great stability,” said head coach Chris Klieman.
The Bison may yet pull the redshirts of a couple of defensive ends in Spencer Waege from Watertown, S.D., and Logan McCormick from Appleton, Wis. Those are the two the head coach pointed out as still getting a hard look from the coaching staff. A big part of that reasoning is the season-ending injury to senior defensive end Greg Menard.
They’ll be part of a scrimmage on Saturday morning that could go a long way in determining their playing status.
“We’ll progress them over the next couple of weeks to see if one of them is ready to play and if we need one of them ready to play,” Klieman said.
But the fact is, it’s becoming tougher for a true freshman to find the lineup mainly because of the size of the classes above them. It starts with the current 20 seniors but the classes underneath them appear to be full, also. For instance, there are 23 redshirt juniors on the roster.
“The other thing that is so key in retention is retaining the walkons,” Klieman said. “Because sometimes it takes a while for the walkon to earn an opportunity or earn a scholarship. Usually it doesn’t happen after year one.”
Last year’s recruiting class is still rather intact. Of the 26 players announced on NCAA signing day in February of 2016, 23 are still in the program. The only departures were defensive tackle Cameron Hackl, defensive back Moses Nyangacha and tight end Braydon Lund.
Of those 23, a few have a shot of playing a lot this year and one appears to be destined for the starting lineup in left tackle Dillon Radunz. Klieman said he expects receiver Sean Engel and linebacker Jabril Cox to play in a rotation. He also said offensive lineman Zach Kubas from Dickinson is not far from playing.
“Then there are a bunch we’re trying to get involved in special teams and see where they can help us,” Klieman said.
The advantage, of course, in redshirting players is in their development -- both physically and mentally. Redshirt freshman tackle Cordell Volson was 255 pounds when he reported to fall camp a year ago. He’s about 300 now. Radunz was around 260 when he came to NDSU a year ago and is now about 290 to go along with his 6-foot-6 frame.
“They become one more year mature,” said offensive line coach Conor Riley. “Not only from a physical standpoint but also more mature mentally as well. They can deal with a lot of the difficulties that they have to go through.”
That goes for any position, really. There were years when NDSU had a recruiting class or two lose big numbers to attrition. Klieman was named the head coach prior to the 2014 season and so far, he’s avoided that problem.
“You hope that’s the state of your program, that you see enough depth,” he said. “You have to have the development program for a lot of those redshirt freshmen, sophomore or even juniors. And that doesn’t matter if you’re a skill kid or a lineman, you still need that year of growth and maturity.”