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Bison football caps spring camp with ring ceremony, condensed practice that was cut short due to weather – InForum

FARGO — An early afternoon tornado watch didn’t stop the Bison faithful from coming out to see North Dakota State football’s final practice of the spring season Saturday.

That was until the watch turned into a warning and Fargodome officials ordered everyone to evacuate the facility.

After players received their 2021 NCAA Division I FCS national championship rings in a pre-practice ceremony, the team took to Gate City Bank Field to run through various drills, squeezing in a half hour of practice time before public address announcer Dan Michaels announced at about 3 pm that day was cut short due to the weather system roaring through the area.

It was a first for Bison head coach Matt Entz, and probably many others. Nonetheless, Entz considered spring camp a success.

“Another chapter in my book of unique moments in Bison football,” Entz said after the condensed practice. “We have an indoor facility and we get it called a little bit early because of a tornado warning.

“Regardless of what went on today, I thought our kids had a really good spring. Some of the things we went into the spring emphasizing were creating depth, better forms of communication, nonverbal, sideline into the huddle, quarterbacks, all of those things are critical in our process.”

Situational awareness was also a key component of spring camp, Entz said.

“College football is a game of situations,” he said. “When you start talking about red zone, two minute, third downs, base downs… There’s so many scenarios you can see. We emphasize red zone third down because those are the areas you’re going to win or lose games.”

A healthy squad took the field Saturday, but Entz said he limited reps for several veteran players due to the workload they’ve put in over the last several seasons.

“I thought our kids did a really good job,” he said. “We’re healthier today than we were when we started spring ball. We limited a number of our seniors’ reps just due to the volume of football that they’ve played over the course of the last four or five years.”

Leading the offense into 2022 will be junior quarterback Cam Miller and senior QB Quincy Patterson. Miller finished last season with 1,444 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air while sprinkling in 280 yards and four TDs on the ground. Patterson was more of a rushing threat, playing in 14 games and rushing for 660 yards and seven TDs, while adding 813 yards and six TDs through the air.

“I think Cam continues to grow,” Entz said. “His knowledge of him, his understanding of what we’re doing offensively is as good as it’s ever been. Where I want to start challenging him is… he’s a great offensive leader, now it’s time to become a team leader and start sharing that. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘Code Green,’ special teams or offense. That’s the role of the quarterback here at NDSU. You’re going to lead, you’re going to be the guy out front and your actions and words are going to match up.”

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North Dakota State’s Cole Payton keeps the ball during the team’s spring scrimmage Saturday, April 23, 2022, in the Fargodome.

Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Redshirt freshman Cole Payton is third on the depth chart behind Miller and Patterson.

He appeared in three games last fall, rushing for 78 yards and two TDs.

Entz said it’s difficult to determine if Payton will see more action this season.

Perhaps the biggest question defensively for the Bison this upcoming season is filling the shoes of middle linebacker Jackson Hankey. The Missouri Valley Football Conference second-teamer finished his collegiate career recording 324 tackles, good for 10th all-time in NDSU history.

Redshirt freshman Logan Kopp could be the one worthy enough to fill those shoes.

“It went really well,” Kopp said of his spring. “I definitely learned a lot. I was kind of new to it in the fall and kind of had to jump right into it, but here in the spring I kind of got to slow things down, see things better and really improve my game.”

Kopp appeared in one game last season, a 44-2 win over Indiana State in which he recorded two tackles.

While Kopp won’t know for sure if he’ll slip into that starting role come autumn, Entz liked what he saw from Kopp along with his other returning linebackers.

“Linebacker is probably a spot where there’s some question marks,” he said. “Logan Kopp has asserted himself, (redshirt junior) Luke Weerts is back and healthy, (junior) Nick Kubitz had a soft tissue injury and didn’t go today for precautionary reasons, but he really elevated his play. You talk about a young man that was very focused and serious every day at practice, he went out here with a purpose.”

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North Dakota State’s Peter Anderson carries during the team’s spring scrimmage Saturday, April 23, 2022, in the Fargodome.

Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Other position groups showed bright spots as well, particularly the defensive line.

“Defensive line-wise, (junior) Dylan Hendricks to defensive end is a positive one,” Entz said. “He’s 6-foot-2, 250 pounds right now and he’s going to continue to get better. The summer months and fall camp will only help him. He’s made some wild plays during practice, and I get excited about where he could be four or five months from now.”

After COVID-19 moved the 2020 season into the spring of 2021, Entz said it was good to return to a normal spring camp schedule.

“I’ve said it a number of times, having the months of January, February, March, April for physical development … What (NDSU assistant athletic director for athletic performance) coach (Jim) Kramer did with some of our young kids who had missed this phase is remarkable,” he said. “But that takes buy-ins from our kids. What (Kramer) does over there, it’s a great environment to get better.

“But spring ball expanded our knowledge of the game, and we had a lot of guys who got better. We had great energy every day at practice. I think that was a by-product of a lot of our kids’ first time doing this spring football or spring practice.”

NDSU will begin its summer program June 1. The Bison open the 2022 regular season vs. Drake on Sept. 3.

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