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Bison take veteran team into 2018 football season thanks to good retention rate

North Dakota State University defensive tackle Greg Menard, center, huddles up with his teammates during the first day of Bison football practice on August 3, 2018. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO—North Dakota State University's annual media day, which is set for Wednesday, Aug. 8, used to be the public's first look of the season at the Bison. Technology, social media and the general popularity of the defending NCAA Division I FCS national champions has changed that in recent years, however, with most fans having a good idea what the squad looks like all-year around.

Still, the cameras will be clicking and the videos will be rolling. And there will be plenty of players to pick from. And if it seems like nobody ever leaves the program anymore, well, you're pretty close.

The 2014 through 2017 recruiting classes have a combined retention rate of 75 percent, which is rather high considering the physical nature of the sport and the trend for players to find immediate playing time gratification.

"It's something that is really important to us, so I credit our older guys for treating our younger guys the right way," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "They challenge them, but they're also there for them, too, giving them some advice. Right now, we're in good shape."

The leader is the 2017 recruiting class. All 16 players who were signed to some sort of scholarship and eight of nine preferred walk-ons returned for their redshirt freshman seasons. The only one to leave was walk-on receiver Brant Bohmert from Northern Cass High School, who tore his ACL last season.

The biggest attrition rate for scholarship guys is 2016, with seven of 13 having left the team. But that class has been bolstered with seven of 10 preferred walk-ons still with the program.

Of the 20 signed to a scholarship in 2016, 15 still remain. This year's large senior class of 24 can be attributed to 13 of 19 scholarship players signed in 2014 who took football through their senior year.

The previous lists do not include transfer players. Moreover, receiver RJ Urzendowski played as a true freshman in 2014 and graduated. This year's senior class also includes defensive back Jaylaan Wimbush and receiver Dallas Freeman, who were added after signing day, and four who played as true freshmen: safety Robbie Grimsley, receiver Dimitri Williams, running back Bruce Anderson and kicker Cam Pedersen.

A successful program certainly doesn't hurt in the retention rate, either. The Bison have won six of the last seven Division I FCS titles.

"And I think the guys enjoy school here. Guys enjoy the fact they build a bond with these teammates because they help each other stay around," Klieman said. "Not every day is a great day out here. They're able to lean on each other and able to keep them around. Plus, they see the big senior classes, and they want to be a part of that."

At this rate, the senior class next year will be 19 players. There are 21 sophomores on the roster.

Klieman said the staff works on keeping the younger players engaged. With so many upperclassmen, seeing the field and cracking the depth chart isn't easy. For instance, there are eight running backs on the roster with seven of them part of scholarship recruiting classes.

NDSU hasn't released a fall 1-2 deep depth chart yet, but it's expected to include just a handful of sophomores. Of that class, only linebacker Jabril Cox and maybe offensive lineman Cordell Volson are expected to start.

"But you never know because there are always those situations where I was third on the depth chart, and holy cow, I was playing that week," Klieman said. "So when your time is called, you know you have to be ready to go. But in the same respect, those kids know every day they're being evaluated."

Klieman said the team has its own "big brother-little brother" program to help with communication.

"And also our coaches are spending extra time with those guys," he said. "Not necessarily on the field but, more importantly, off the field in our offices just talking to those guys and continuing to mentor them."

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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