FARGO — An early afternoon tornado watch didn’t stop Bison faithful from coming to watch North Dakota State’s last football practice of the spring season on Saturday.
That was until the watch turned into a warning and Fargodome officials ordered everyone to evacuate the facility.
After the players received their 2021 NCAA Division I FCS National Championship rings in a pre-workout ceremony, the team headed to Gate City Bank Field to perform various drills, squeezing half an hour of practice time before public announcer Dan Michaels announced at around 3 p.m. that the day had been cut short due to the roaring weather system in the area.
It was a first for Bison head coach Matt Entz, and likely for many others. Nevertheless, Entz considered the spring camp a success.
“Another chapter in my book of unique moments in Bison football,” Entz said after the condensed practice. “We have an indoor facility and are calling it a little early due to a tornado warning.
“Regardless of what happened today, I think our kids had a really good spring. Some of the things we focused on in the spring were creating depth, better forms of communication, non-verbal, sideline in the group, quarterbacks, all of those things are key in our process .
Situational awareness was also a key part of spring camp, Entz said.
“College football is a game of situations,” he said. “When you start talking about red zone, two minutes, third downs, base downs… There are so many scenarios you can see. We emphasize the red zone in third position because these are the zones where you will win or lose matches.
A healthy team took to the field on Saturday, but Entz said he had limited reps for several veteran players due to the workload they’ve put in over the past few seasons.
“I think our kids have done a really good job,” he said. “We are healthier today than we were when we started the spring ball. We have limited a number of our senior representatives simply because of the volume of football they have played over the last four or five years.
Leading the offense in 2022 are junior quarterback Cam Miller and senior QB Quincy Patterson. Miller finished last season with 1,444 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air while sprinkling for 280 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Patterson was more of a rushing threat, playing in 14 games and rushing for 660 yards and seven touchdowns while adding 813 yards and six touchdowns through the air.
“I think Cam continues to grow,” Entz said. “His knowledge, his understanding of what we’re doing offensively is as good as it’s ever been. Where I want to start challenging him is… he’s a great offensive leader, now is the time to become a team leader and start sharing that. It doesn’t matter if it’s “code green”, special teams or attack. That’s the quarterback’s role here at NDSU. You’re going to lead, you’re going to be the front guy, and your actions and your words are going to match.
Redshirt freshman Cole Payton is third on the depth chart behind Miller and Patterson. He appeared in three games last fall, rushing for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
Entz said it’s hard to tell if Payton will see more action this season.
Perhaps the biggest defensive issue for the Bison this coming season is filling the shoes of center linebacker Jackson Hankey. The Missouri Valley Football Conference second team finished their collegiate career recording 324 tackles, good for 10th all-time in NDSU history.
Redshirt rookie Logan Kopp might be the one worthy enough to fill those shoes.
“It went really well,” Kopp said of his spring. “I definitely learned a lot. I was kind of new in the fall and had to jump straight in, but here in the spring I kind of had to slow things down, see things better and really improve my game. “
Kopp appeared in one game last season, a 44-2 win over Indiana State in which he recorded two tackles.
While Kopp isn’t sure if he’ll slip into that starting role in the fall, Entz liked what he saw from Kopp with his other returning linebackers.
“Linebacker is probably a place where there are question marks,” he said. “Logan Kopp asserted himself, (redshirt junior) Luke Weerts is back and healthy, (junior) Nick Kubitz has a soft tissue injury and didn’t go today for medical reasons. precautionary, but he really raised his game. You’re talking about a young man who was very focused and serious every day in training, he came here with a goal.
Other groups of positions also showed positives, especially the defensive line.
“From a defensive line perspective, (junior) Dylan Hendricks at defensive end is positive,” Entz said. “He’s 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds right now and he’s going to keep improving. The summer months and fall camp will only help. He made some wild plays in training, and I’m excited about where he could be in four or five months.
After COVID-19 moved the 2020 season to spring 2021, Entz said it was good to go back to a normal spring camp schedule.
“I’ve said it many times, having January, February, March, April for physical development… What Coach (NDSU Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Performance) (Jim) Kramer did with some of our young children who had missed that phase is remarkable,” he said. “But this requires the support of our children. What (Kramer) is doing there is a great environment to improve.
“But the spring ball broadened our knowledge of the game and we had a lot of guys who got better. We had great energy every day in training. I think it was a by-product of when our kids first did that spring football or spring practice.
NDSU will begin its summer program on June 1. The Bisons will open the 2022 regular season against Drake on September 3.