North Dakota State's recipe for roster success is simple — build both sides of the line of scrimmage with midwestern talent, and add a healthy dose of Florida speed in the 'skill player' department. Then marinate for one preseason, build them into men for approximately one redshirt year — then voila, you have one heck of a football team complete with depth and talent. Then repeat the routine the next recruiting cycle.
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The NDSU trophy case proves this recipe is a tasty one.
There's no question NDSU knows what it is doing. Currently, assistant coach Atif Austin has been the Florida wizard, using his Florida roots from north of Tampa, Fla. to set up base camp for recruiting the greater Tampa Bay area, which slightly to the east includes Florida's sizzling talent hotbed of Lakeland/Polk County. The Bison currently have 11 players from Florida on their roster, and nine are from schools within 50 miles of Tampa.
HERO Sports asked 1,000-yard rusher and Tampa area native Bruce Anderson what he thought of the method.
"Being a Florida kid you don't really hear about North Dakota State, so seeing other players from Florida and a coach from Florida it reassures you," Anderson told HERO Sports. "It makes you feel like we can have a home away from home."
It's not like NDSU is the first to do this. Schools from 'up north' have done it for a long time.
Former Miami Hurricanes head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who built the 'Canes into a dominant program in the early 1980s, once dubbed the I-4 corridor (Tampa to Orlando to Daytona Beach) the northern reaches of the 'State of Miami' that they would target for talent. The Bison are following the same logic.
Starting linebacker Chris Board is from Orlando, while defensive backs Tre Dempsey, Josh Hayes and future QB Holden Hotchkiss all hail from the small-town hotbed Polk County area, and Dec. 2017 DE signee Tony Pierce also hails from Polk County. Desmond Cain is an Illinois transfer but is also originally from south Florida.
The Greater Tampa Bay area has produced Anderson, Jaylaan Wimbush, Felix Dixon, Christian Watson and Cordell Pimienta (some of which are redshirting), as well as Connor Wentz, who is from the northern reaches of what Floridians call 'the Suncoast'.
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No question NDSU fans recognize these names and their contributions. And while the Bison wouldn't be in Frisco without the big guys up front, they also wouldn't be in Frisco without the guys used to 90-degree weather instead of 9. It took some getting used to moving 1,500 miles away, but they love it.
"As far as the climate and stuff, it was definitely different," Board told HERO Sports. "It was an adjustment but we got used to it and adapted to the culture and from then on it was history. The Florida guys hang out, and we've definitely been recruiting the area. When you go to Florida, you can get a little bit of speed to come to North Dakota State. It's the way we condition and play football year round, that's an advantage."
With the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles — dream destinations for most Florida products — performing below average this year, one has to wonder if Anderson or Dempsey or Wimbush could have enjoyed a win over their homestate giants if that matchup had presented itself. One can only wonder, but there's no question that the Gators and Seminoles aren't playing in a national title game in January, and these Florida products are.
"Being a Florida kid you dream of playing at a Florida school and you feel bitter then when you get passed up," Anderson said. "But I'm happy where I am now and wouldn't trade it."