Kolpack: The 2014 Bison recruiting class turning the corner

FARGO — It was a magical season on the field in 2013 when perhaps the greatest team in NCAA Division I FCS history completed a 15-0 season with a national title win over outmanned Towson University (Md.). North Dakota State finished unbeaten, untied and undisputed as the kings of FCS.

The end of that game meant the end of the careers for 24 players who were in their last year of eligibility. Less than a month later, new head coach Chris Klieman stepped to the microphone on national signing day, proclaiming that the Bison got almost every recruit who had given the program a verbal commitment when Craig Bohl was the head coach.

A month earlier, the stuff hit the fan in recruiting when there was an apparent inner-office tussle on verbals between Klieman and Bohl, who was already named the Wyoming head coach effective at the end of the NDSU season. The Bison ended up losing just one recruit — cornerback Ryon’e Winters, who ended up not lasting long in Laramie anyway.

“We took nothing for granted,” Klieman said on signing day. “Everybody knows in this profession a verbal commitment means something, but not everything. Even if we felt solid about somebody, we re-recruited them.”

The Bison re-recruited and signed 29 players that day, 21 to scholarships and eight walk-ons. There were some stars in that class who didn’t take long to make themselves known, such as defensive end Greg Menard, quarterback Easton Stick, wide receivers RJ Urzendowski and Darrius Shepherd, and cornerback Jalen Allison. Players such as offensive lineman Colin Conner, running back Lance Dunn and defensive tackle Aaron Steidl started to emerge last season.

But if the class was ever going to make a stamp on the program, it would be how the other players developed as the years went on.

The 2014 class is now in its fourth year on campus and the “other” guys are no longer other guys.

NDSU is 2-0 on the young season and is getting contributions from these other members of the ’14 class: tight end Nate Jenson, linebackers Levi Jordheim and Dan Marlette, offensive linemen Tanner Volson and Luke Bacon, and defensive linemen Stanley Jones, Caleb Butler and Blake Williams.

In college football, you need maturity — meaning good retention in recruiting classes that allows you to grow both physically and mentally. If 2017 is going to be a success, the 2014 boys need to continue to produce.

Last Saturday in the 40-13 beatdown of Eastern Washington, 14 players from the ’14 class were in a regular rotation of some sort on the field.

In just two games, the ’14 class has gone from suspect to promising. You have to give some of these guys credit for checking their ego at the locker room door; it’s not easy for a high school star to ride the bench for a few years.

They still have to prove it in the rugged Missouri Valley Football Conference, of course, but the fact you don’t see many true or redshirt freshmen on the field would indicate one of two things: Those two recruiting classes stink or the older players have taken their play to a higher level.

When you beat a perennially strong program like Eastern Washington (albeit the Eagles have issues) that bad on its red turf, right now the vote is for the latter.