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Walk-ons play big role in shaping North Dakota State Bison football

FARGO -- As a sophomore, Josh Howieson was a quarterback in the Brainerd, Minn., high school football program. As a junior he was switched to defensive line. Last year, he was an offensive lineman.The positional musical chairs was a result of growth.

FARGO - As a sophomore, Josh Howieson was a quarterback in the Brainerd, Minn., high school football program. As a junior he was switched to defensive line. Last year, he was an offensive lineman.
The positional musical chairs was a result of growth. Howieson was around 6-foot-1 as a sophomore, but today he’ll be part of North Dakota State’s signing day recruiting class as a 6-5, 270-pound preferred walk-on.
“My goal is to play, not just to be there,” Howieson said. “I think I can get to that 300-pound level, or whatever they want me at.”
The Bison are expected to sign 17 players to NCAA letters of intent today, although the numbers and depth in the class will be bolstered by 10 walk-ons with perhaps a couple more on the way. In the case of Howieson, NDSU coaches would like nothing better than if he followed a walk-on path set by another Brainerd graduate in offensive lineman Joe Haeg.
“He’s definitely a project, but he has the will and wants to be a good player,” said Brainerd head coach Ron Stolski. “He was a quarterback all the way through 10th grade. He’s a good athlete, but he just got too big - he continued to grow and grow and grow.”
This winter, Howieson is a starting forward on the Brainerd hockey team. He was the team’s leading scorer last year as a junior.
Haeg was a 265-pound project in 2011 when he came to NDSU. Now 6-6 and 310, he’s preparing for a shot at pro football. About the only comparison between Haeg and Howieson right now is they both played at Brainerd, but NDSU has proven it can take walk-ons and make them into effective scholarship players.
Three of the 10 walk-ons are offensive linemen, with Zach Kubas from Dickinson Trinity and Quinn Alo from LaMoure being the other two. Alo said he had a partial scholarship offer from the University of North Dakota, but said NDSU has been his preference for a long time.
That and the reputation of the Bison walk-on program, which in 2014 produced defensive tackle Aaron Steidl and defensive end Caleb Butler, both of whom played key backup roles in this year’s FCS title game. Alo pointed to Haeg and defensive tackle Brian Schaetz as prime examples.
“They were the first two guys out of the tunnel before every game,” Alo said. “That was something to look at and to work toward.”
Alo has the size at 6-3 and 320. The head coach at LaMoure, Andy DelaBarre, is a former Bison tight end, and one of the Loboes’ assistant coaches and Alo’s neighbor, Michael Arndt, is a former NDSU offensive lineman.
“They’ve been through the program and they told me about the attitude you need to go in with,” Alo said.
The Bison are expected to get two other area players with size to walk on: tight end Matt Biegler from Underwood, Minn., at 6-4 and 250 as well as fullback Zak Kuntz from Grand Forks at 6-2 and 235.
NDSU started Tuesday morning with 17 committed scholarship players, but were busy dealing with the potential of FBS schools making late pitches, like an apparent preferred walk-on offer the University of Wisconsin made to tight end Gabe Lloyd from Green Bay. Also a potential target was offensive lineman Dillon Radunz from Becker, Minn.

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