North Dakota ranks No. 17 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
The Fighting Hawks lost 38-31 at Weber State in the first round of the 2022 FCS playoffs. They finished 7-5 overall and 7-4 vs. the FCS.
Here’s a look at this year’s UND football squad.
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Returning 2022 FCS All-Conference Players (6)
WR Bo Belquist
OL Donny Ventrelli
DL Ben McNaboe
CB C.J. Siegel
QB Tommy Schuster
WR Wesley Eliodor (2022 All-MVFC at South Dakota)
Players In 2023 FCS Positional Rankings (4)
Transfer Portal Movement
Transfers Lost To The FCS (2)
Marcus Preston (WR) to South Dakota State
Jayson Coley (DB) to Murray State
Transfers Coming In From The FBS (2)
Jake Saltonstall (DL), New Mexico
Jeffrey Griffin Jr. (DL), Northern Illinois
Transfers Coming In From The FCS (2)
Wesley Eliodor (WR), South Dakota
Donavan Hunt (RB), Jackson State
UND has an experienced offense coming back after scoring 30.33 points per game (No. 38 in the FCS), led by its veteran quarterback, its top wide receiver, and its entire starting offensive line.
Tommy Schuster is a three-year starter at QB with 6,819 career passing yards, 44 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. He was at his best last season, going 251/365 passing (68.8%) for 2,730 yards, 20 TDs, and five interceptions. Schuster’s 146.9 passing efficiency ranked No. 22 in the FCS as he earned All-MVFC Honorable Mention accolades.
Last year’s leading receiver Bo Belquist is back, coming off of a Second Team All-Conference season. He racked up 63 catches for 811 yards and six scores. UND loses its second-leading receiver Garett Maag, but the No. 3 and 4 WRs return. Red Wilson had 30 catches for 207 yards, and Jack Wright recorded 18 catches for 216 yards and two TDs.
UND added a big in-conference transfer in Wesley Eliodor from South Dakota. He was Honorable Mention All-MVFC in 2021 as a returner, then added Honorable Mention accolades as a wide receiver and return specialist last season. Eliodor was USD’s leading receiver in 2022 with 30 catches for 482 yards and six touchdowns while adding 19 kick returns for 522 yards.
Running back Isaiah Smith provided 24 receptions for 306 yards and three scores, finishing third for the Fighting Hawks in receiving yards.
Smith is part of a backfield that needs to replace 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Hoosman. Smith was No. 2 on the team with 447 yards on the ground and four scores, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Luke Skokna is also back after missing most of last season due to injury. The speedster has 129 career carries for 746 yards and seven touchdowns.
Donavan Hunt adds depth to the RB position as a transfer from Jackson State, where he had four carries last fall as a redshirt freshman.
The most depth on the team is on the offensive line. The Fighting Hawks return all five main starters: 2022 Second Team All-MVFC Donny Ventrelli (6’4″ 300 lbs), Brayden Bryant (6’2″ 305 lbs), Seth Anderson (6’4″ 305 lbs), Danny Carroll (6’1″ 280 lbs), and Easton Kilty (6’5″ 305 lbs).
Peyton Lotysz (6’3″ 290 lbs), Sam Hagen (6’6″ 315 lbs), and Colin Lavell (6’4″ 300 lbs) also have started at least five games over the last couple of seasons.
Last year, the Fighting Hawks averaged 228.17 passing yards per game and 147.6 rushing yards per game.
UND has typically owned a solid defense. But the unit took a step back last season, going from 20.27 points allowed per game (No. 22 in the FCS) in 2021 to 30.83 points allowed per game (No. 83).
Joel Schwenzfeier now takes the reins as defensive coordinator after nine seasons as a position coach, the last five being with the safeties.
The Fighting Hawks return seven of their top 11 tacklers to improve from last season. They allowed 171.7 rushing yards per game and 226.9 passing YPG.
Leading tackler Devon Krzanowski is gone, but the next four top tacklers return. Kadon Kauppinen tallied 63 tackles, two tackles for loss, four pass breakups, and one interception from his safety spot. Linebacker Wyatt Pedigo recorded 54 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and two interceptions. Linebacker Kason Kelley notched 50 tackles and 2.5 TFLs. And C.J. Siegel is one of the top cornerbacks in the FCS, recording 46 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, two interceptions, and eight pass breakups as a Second Team All-MVFC selection.
Ben McNaboe (6’3″ 245 lbs) leads the defensive front after back-to-back All-MVFC seasons (2021 All-Newcomer Team, 2022 Second Team). Last year, he had 35 tackles, 13 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, and four quarterback hurries.
UND also added depth, experience, and some beef to the d-line with two FBS transfers. Jeffrey Griffin Jr. (6’0″ 305 lbs) is a senior transfer from Northern Illinois, where he played in 34 games and totaled 28 tackles. And Jake Saltonstall (6’4″ 265 lbs) is a senior transfer from New Mexico, where he appeared in 31 games and recorded 75 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, and 5.5 sacks.
9/2 vs Drake
9/9 vs Northern Arizona
9/16 at Boise State
9/30 at No. 1 South Dakota State
10/7 vs Western Illinois
10/14 vs No. 2 North Dakota State
10/21 at RV Northern Iowa
10/28 vs Indiana State
11/4 at Murray State
11/11 at South Dakota
11/18 vs Illinois State
HERO Sports’ rankings
RV = Received Votes
Bold indicates MVFC games