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North Dakota State’s early football commits

FARGO — The job of the football sports information director at North Dakota State just got a little more confusing next year. It may be time to bring out the middle initial on the roster sheet.

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The Bison this week got a verbal commitment from offensive tackle Zack Johnson of Spring Lake Park, Minn. It’s the same spelling as Bison standout offensive guard Zack Johnson, who is redshirting this season to rehabilitate an ailing knee. That’s not to be confused with NDSU senior backup offensive lineman Zac Johnson from Fargo South.

The high school Zack Johnson is 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds heading into his senior year. He is the 12th known verbal commitment, further emphasizing the growing trend of early commitments.

“Kids are wanting to get it done before the season now so more than ever than five or 10 years ago,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman.

Klieman cites NDSU’s summer football camp as a reason more scholarship offers are being extended earlier. More players are going to the camps than ever before, which allows coaches to evaluate players earlier.

Instead of waiting for their senior high school season, coaches can check out a player in their own backyard. Rare is the Bison early commitment who hadn’t been to NDSU’s camp.

Moreover, said Spring Lake Park head coach Jeff Schlieff, is the realization that if an FBS school doesn’t offer a player in the spring or early summer of their junior year, then they’re probably not a high priority.

“If you’re hearing more from North Dakota State and South Dakota State in the summer and nothing from the U (of Minnesota), I think you have to make the assumption you’re a lot lower on the U’s board,” he said.

Schlieff said his Zack Johnson received interest from Northern Illinois and Wyoming, but to his knowledge no scholarships were offered.

“But the Bison were kind of the first to get after him,” he said.

NDSU also got a verbal this week from defensive back Dominic Davis from Belleville (Ill.) West High School, the same school as NDSU sophomore linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Davis runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, according to his online recruiting bio.

The other 10 who have committed to NDSU are:

Tight end Ben Ellefson from Hawley, Minn.; defensive back-kick returner Ty Brooks from Fargo South; linebacker-fullback Brock Robbins from Cavalier, N.D.; defensive end Bryan Carlton and safety Braden Sikes from Minnetonka, Minn.; Eau Claire, Wis., safety Jaxon Brown; Iowa City, Iowa, linebacker Jake Brinkman; Warner, S.D., defensive end Derrek Tuszka, Hutchinson, Minn.; safety Robbie Grimsley and Champlin, Minn., defensive lineman Jack Darnell.

NDSU signed 24 players to letters of intent in national signing day last February. At that rate, the Bison are perhaps already halfway done with the 2015 class.

“I think kids want to take it off their plate before their senior season,” Klieman said. “It seems like that’s kind of the thing to do because they’ve been to a number of campuses in the summer. If they get to three or four camps and take three or four unofficial visits, they feel like they’re ready.”

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at 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.