Bison quarterbacks friends off the field, competitors on it

FARGO — Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders have become pretty good friends since the true freshmen quarterbacks arrived at North Dakota State. So much that they plan on living together next season.
They came from different areas of the country — Hotchkiss is from Lakeland, Fla., and Sanders from Apple Valley, Minn. With winter in the Midwest still lingering, Sanders was asked if he has a standing invite to the Sunshine State.
“For sure, I’ll go down there with Holden and hit the beach a bit if we ever get an opportunity,” he said.
On the field, however, both are competing against each other this spring for the backup job behind starter Easton Stick. It’s the reality of college football, where it’s friendly business when you put the pads on and friendly college students off the field.
And learning the Bison offense is no spring break, either.
“It’s difficult but Easton has been great to the two young quarterbacks,” Hotchkiss said. “He’s helping us learn everything. He’s been a great friend and a great coach.”
Hotchkiss perhaps came into spring camp with a slight leg up since he made the Bison travel roster late in the season. He was never going to play — safety James Hendricks was the backup quarterback — but it gave him classroom learning time nonetheless.
Sanders, however, has been right there so far after five practices in spring ball. Head coach Chris Klieman said he expects the battle to go deep into fall camp before the Bison season opener Sept. 1 against Cal Poly.
Progress so far after two weeks has been acceptable, Klieman said, saying they showed their inexperience in the first few days but have gotten better since.
“My goal at the start of spring was just to improve every practice,” said Sanders, after the Friday, March 30, workout at the NDSU bubble over Dacotah Field. “I feel like today was better than (practice) four and four was better than three, three was better than two and so on. I’m definitely not satisfied with today but happy with the direction that I’m headed.”
The timing is right for one if not both of them to see the field sooner than later. Stick is a senior. The quarterbacks from the ensuing two recruiting classes did not pan out.
The 2015 class saw Hendricks move to defense, where he’s been a valuable contributor. Michael Veldman left the team after one year. Henry Van Dellen from 2016 was dismissed last fall after a violation of team rules.
Hotchkiss was a priority recruit in the 2017 class, and the Bison got a nice benefit with Sanders walking on. He took the NDSU option over a scholarship offer from Montana State.
“I think the question is, how could you not pick here?” Sanders said. “I mean look at the track record, the community and the people. It’s closer to home than some of the other places, just a drive away. I know this program is so special and gives everyone the opportunity to get better and better their craft. The question for me was, how could I not pick here?”
The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Hotchkiss was a two-year starter for one of the best high school programs in Florida. He threw for over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns his senior year and had 29 TD passes in his career.
The 6-3, 218-pound Sanders completed 145 of 275 passes for 1,875 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year. He’s from a football family — his uncle was his high school quarterback coach, his cousin played running back at Minnesota and he calls his dad a great mentor.
“So I stay in touch with those guys and they help me through a lot of the battles,” Sanders said.
It’s the first time Sanders has ever had to go through any sort of competition to be a starter. At Apple Valley, he was always the lead guy. Hotchkiss most likely had a tougher road at Lakeland, a high school team that looks more like a college program.
“There’s a lot more pressure now,” Hotchkiss said. “During the fall, you knew you were redshirting and you knew there was no chance of anything. Now it’s time to go, and there’s a lot of pressure on you.”