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UND football sees recruiting benefit of Missouri Valley Football Conference move

University of North Dakota head football coach Bubba Schweigert (center) addresses his players following a spring football practice at the High Performance Center on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS -- When the University of North Dakota football program delivered a recruiting pitch in the Midwest this year, the message was a little different for the 2019 football class than it has been in years past.

UND coaches have always targeted the Midwest -- but now they’re telling Midwest players they’re going to play the lion’s share of their games in the Midwest.

The Fighting Hawks -- set to join the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020 -- reaped the benefits of the new pitch Wednesday, Dec. 19, when UND signed 23 athletes to National Letters of Intent.

“That was a big part of it for me,” said UND signee Luke Skokna, a running back from Hinsdale, Ill., who was once committed to Western Illinois and held at least seven Division I offers including South Dakota and South Dakota State. “We’re the new kids on the block, going in as underdogs in the Missouri Valley and making waves.”

Of UND’s 23 signees, eight are from Minnesota, seven from North Dakota, four from Illinois and one each from Michigan, Wisconsin and Colorado. Defensive back Sam Fort is listed as a Virginia native, although his roots -- and the reason he held offers from North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa -- was because he’s originally from Iowa.

“We’re where we belong,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said of the move to the MVFC. “This is the right fit for our university. The bulk of our team and the heart and soul will come from the Midwest. We’re always going to reach farther and farther away for our arms and legs but the heart and soul of our team will come from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest.

“The Big Sky was a wonderful conference to be part of and we appreciated the partnership throughout the years. But we’re excited about the direction we’re heading. It’s a (recruiting) pitch that makes sense. We got here in 2014 and felt our recruiting footprint had to be in the Midwest. The challenge was recruiting the Midwest and playing out west.”

UND signee Chrysten Cochran, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver from West Bloomfield, Mich., said the move to the Missouri Valley was big in his recruitment.

“It’s easier for my mom to see a game, rather than travel all the way out to North Dakota,” said Cochran, who also held a Division I offer from Cornell. “I’ll also get to play some of the guys I know from back home.”

Schweigert said UND put a lot of effort into recruiting the Chicago area the past couple of years. The Hawks picked up four from that area in the 2019 class and the coaching staff raved about those pickups on signing day.

“What you see is the effect of going into the Missouri Valley,” Schweigert said. “It was a different pitch to say you’re going to have some away games in your backyard.”

UND will continue to recruit for the 2019 class into February, especially targeting a quarterback after previous commit Cedric Case out of Lincoln, Neb., made a late flip to Texas State.

“We feel like we still have work to do,” Schweigert said. “We lost a commit late at quarterback, and we have to figure out how to address that. The best way to address it is with a player with four years left or a high school senior. There’s going to be good players available, believe me.”

UND will also target additions on the offensive line and at linebacker, Schweigert said.

UND’s 2019 recruiting class

UND’s 2019 recruiting class includes (preferred walk-ons indicated as PWO):

  • RB Dominick London (5-foot-9, 205 pounds) St. Paul, Minn. (Minnesota Gophers transfer)

  • RB Luke Skokna (5-9, 174) Hinsdale, Ill.

  • WR Chrysten Cochran (6-1, 176) West Bloomfield, Mich.

  • WR Adam Zavalney (6-4, 190) Park River, N.D., PWO

  • TE Billy Riviere (6-4, 230) Plymouth, Minn.

  • OL Kyle Downs (6-3, 280) Monticello, Minn.

  • OL Jacob Lindemann (6-4, 270) Roseau, Minn.

  • OL Ben Jansen (6-8, 290) Kenosha, Wis.

  • OL Colin Lavell (6-4, 260) Parker, Colo.

  • OL EJ Langstaff (6-5, 230) West Fargo, PWO

  • OL Adam Neustel (6-3, 285) Milnor, N.D., PWO

  • DL Elijah Beach (6-4, 260) Streamwood, Ill.

  • DL Steven Keech (6-5, 245) Two Harbors, Minn.

  • DL Luke Lennon (6-5, 210) West Fargo

  • DL Isaac Moore (6-2, 207) Roselle, Ill.

  • DL Tanner Thorsness (6-4, 240) Bismarck

  • LB Josh Navratil (6-2, 195) Pine Island, Minn.

  • LB Luke Herzog (6-2, 202) St. Paul, Minn., PWO

  • LB Kaden Wolsky (6-0, 190) Carrington, N.D., PWO

  • S Matthew Koshiol (6-2, 195) Cold Spring, Minn.

  • DB Haley Bucholz (6-2, 168) West Fargo (Fargo Shanley), PWO

  • DB Jayson Coley (5-11, 160) Country Club Hills, Ill.

  • DB Samuel Fort (6-0, 183) St. George, Va.