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UND football team expected to be heavy on North Dakotans on signing day

West Fargo's Luke Lennon carries against Bismarck during their football game Sept. 1, 2017, in West Fargo. Lennon is expected to sign a National Letter of Intent to play with North Dakota on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2018. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota football program will add between 20 and 25 recruits during the NCAA’s early signing period, which opens Wednesday morning, Dec. 19.

Included in that 2019 recruiting class is expected to be seven native North Dakotans -- a large number of in-state additions compared to recent years.

UND has received three verbal commitments from in-state players expected to be on scholarship and sign National Letters of Intent including West Fargo’s Luke Lennon, Bismarck Century’s Tanner Thorsness and Fargo Shanley’s Haley Bucholz.

The in-state walk-ons include West Fargo’s E.J. Langstaff, North Sargent’s Adam Neustel, Carrington’s Caden Wolsky and Park River’s Adam Zavalney.

The Fighting Hawks had 13 North Dakota players on the roster in 2018. Looking ahead to 2019, UND could be led in receiving and rushing by North Dakotans with wide receiver Noah Wanzek (Jamestown) and running back James Johannesson (Fargo).

When UND head coach Bubba Schweigert took over the program five years ago, he stressed the importance of overhauling the walk-on program.

He wanted to the walk-ons to primarily consist of local players and those with legacy connections.

With Lennon, he’s set to land both of those angles.

Lennon, the nephew of former UND coach and 2001 Division II national champion Dale Lennon, was an important recruit for the Hawks due to both his bloodlines and potential.

“Our team struggled a little bit, but he probably didn’t play maybe six plays all year long,” veteran West Fargo coach Jay Gibson said of Lennon. “He was on every special team. We snapped it to him at quarterback. He’s played wide receiver and running back. We made him do probably too much.”

Lennon is 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds. He’s expected to start his career at defensive end, although he played outside linebacker in high school.

“I’m sure the No. 1 job will be to put some weight on him, but he’s a really good defensive player,” Gibson said. “He’s got really good leverage.”

Bucholz is a 6-foot-2, 175-pound defensive back, while Thorsness is a 6-4, 235-pound defensive end.

Thorsness and Lennon were two of five defensive ends to give a verbal commitment to UND in the 2019 class. The others are Elijah Beach of Streamwood, Ill., Steven Keech of Two Harbors, Minn., and Isaac Moore of Roselle, Ill.

In addition to the seven North Dakotans expected to sign in this recruiting class, UND expects to have at least eight from Minnesota -- with seven of those pegged as scholarship players.

This is the second year of the early signing period for college football. The previous window to sign started on the first Wednesday in February.