Toreros use their location advantage to attract high-level FCS football players
FARGO — The Pioneer Football League is a group of 11 schools that extends from one coast to another. The common denominator for 10 of the 11 is they are private and all 11 share one trait when it comes to financing football: They are non-scholarship.
That doesn’t mean, especially in the case of the University of San Diego, they are a non-factor in Division I FCS football.
The Toreros won a first-round playoff game for the second straight season last week, defeating Northern Arizona and for the second consecutive year will travel to Fargo for a second-round game Saturday, Dec. 2, against North Dakota State.
“They’re a different level of Pioneer team,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman. “Everybody in the Pioneer will tell you that. These guys are really good. I know they’re non-scholarship, but all of us would take Joe Haeg.”
Haeg, the current Indianapolis Colts starting right tackle, is a former Bison walk-on. NDSU, in fact, has five walk-ons on its two-deep chart heading into Saturday.
It’s all about recruiting for the Bison in finding those types of players and it’s no different at San Diego. When it comes to finding a team of non-scholarship players that can compete at top FCS levels, the Toreros have a location advantage that other Pioneer teams do not.
“We’re located in Southern California,” said head coach Dale Lindsey. “If you can find better weather, call me and I’ll meet you there. And it helps we’re in a state of over 40 million people so if we do a good job of recruiting our state, we’re going to be pretty good.”
That said, it still helps to be fortunate in finding players who unexpectedly develop. Take defensive end Jonathan Petersen and defensive back Max Michaels, for instance. They were high school teammates in Poway, Calif., who wanted to play in college somewhere but were turned down by everybody including the Toreros.
“We allowed them to come in their freshman year and go to school and come out in the spring,” Lindsey said. “They are four-year starters. You can’t get luckier than that. That’s not coaching. That’s not recruiting. That’s sheer luck.”
Petersen is the Pioneer Defensive Player of the Year who is two quarterback sacks away from setting an FCS career record. He currently has 41.
“He’s an all-around good player,” said Bison offensive guard Austin Kuhnert. “You see him hustling to the ball all over the film. Good guy. These guys are well-coached and they play hard. They’re maybe not as well-sized, but they do love the game of football and you have to respect the heck out of that.”
It’s a rematch from last year’s second round when the Bison won 45-7. The Bison led 24-7 heading into the fourth quarter before breaking it open.
Getting into the second round last year helped the school in terms of national exposure, Lindsey said.
“Now we have kids all the way back to the New England states contacting us,” he said. “They’re interested in the University of San Diego program.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at 241-5546. Kolpack’s Bison Media Blog can be found at bisonmedia.areavoices.com and Twitter @FGOSPORTSWRITER