UND freshmen trying to make waves at corner

By Tom Miller

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS — Senior Evan Holm and junior Hayden Blubaugh are essentially locks as the University of North Dakota football team’s starting cornerbacks for the Fighting Hawks’ season opener Aug. 31 against Drake.

Holm will be a three-year starter, while Blubaugh will be taking over for three-year starter Deion Harris, who’s currently in the Washington Redskins camp.

Beyond the experience of Holm and Blubaugh, however, UND is turning to a bunch of freshmen.

Redshirt freshmen CJ Siegel and Jacob Odom, as well as true freshmen Sammy Fort and Jayson Coley, are the leading candidates to add depth to the Hawks’ cornerback position.

“(Siegel and Odom) are in the fire right now trying to get some time,” UND cornerbacks coach Travis Stepps said. “They’re getting pushed by our new guys. Evan and Hayden, we know what they can do, so their reps are limited so we can sort out what’s going on there.”

With the new NCAA rule that allows players to play in four games and still maintain a redshirt, teams don’t have to identify those players they’d like to pull the redshirt on as early in the process as before.

“You project who are guys who can help you for four games, and you have to strategize a bit,” Stepps said. “Are they an early four, or a mid four or a late four? Injuries will play a big part in that. It’s a moving target now.

“You’ll also have a guy or two you’ll look to pull the shirt from Day 1. We’re still trying to figure out that piece of the puzzle.”

Fort, considered a recruiting coup in the 2019 class, has drawn attention already in fall camp for his athleticism.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Fort, of St. George, Va., held offers from North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa before picking UND.

Siegel, considered a top recruit in the 2018 recruiting class, was listed on UND’s pre-fall depth chart as the No. 2 left cornerback. Siegel played in two games last year, recording a sack at Sacramento State.

The No. 2 right cornerback on the pre-fall depth chart, sophomore Terrell Jennings, suffered a leg injury in fall camp and hasn’t returned to practice the past few days.

Holm, who had 10 pass breakups in 2018, has been sidelined for a portion of fall camp, too.

“He’ll be OK,” Stepps said. “He’s just a little sore. We want to be careful with those guys and not burn them out. It’s a long season, and they’ll play a bulk of the reps. He’ll be back shortly.”

Evan Holm interception

With injuries and overall precaution, it’s meant UND’s freshmen are getting even more reps.

“We have a lot of checks and things that change pre-snap, so it can fry the brain of a younger player,” Stepps said. “Those guys have to get used to the speed and communication, and you have to play strong on the perimeter.”