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Kevin Schnepf, Published February 01 2012

Schnepf: Reality will arrive quickly for NDSU football recruits

Fargo - Even though it was four years ago, Preston Evans easily remembers the day he signed a national letter of intent to play football at North Dakota State.

He and seven other football players from Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., were seated in the school library for a makeshift news conference to announce their plans to play at different schools.

“It’s always an exciting day,” Evans said of national signing day, an annual extravaganza – like Wednesday – when every recruit is a potential All-American.

“But,” Evans said, “after all that hoopla, you have to come back to reality. You have to realize sooner or later that it’s time to go back to work.”

So, as is always the case on national signing day, NDSU head coach Craig Bohl and all the other football coaches across the nation were oozing with optimism Wednesday.

Such confidence has been shattered to pieces in the risky business of recruiting. Evans can relate. Of the 17 recruits NDSU signed in 2008, only Evans, Ricky Hagen and Joe Lund were listed on the roster of the Bison team that won a national championship last month.

“It was a weird time,” said Evans, an all-conference linebacker whose career couldn’t have ended on a higher note. “You remember hearing that we were the best class that coach Bohl brought in, and then before you know it, most of those guys were gone.

“At the time, you were thinking, ‘What’s going on here.’ But when you look back on it, we were able to get some really good players the following years because of it. Really, it worked out for the best.”

Evans survived the tough times when players were being suspended and the Bison struggled to 6-5 and 3-8 seasons.

“We just didn’t have a lot of good-character guys on that team,” said Evans, who saw five players from his recruiting class leave before fall camp even started.

Those days seem like distant memories for Bohl, whose coaching staff has induced a stability that is needed to produce a national championship. To borrow a phrase from Bohl, “the proof is in the puddin’.”

Out of the 21 recruits in 2009, 15 were on last year’s roster and eight made impacts in the championship run. Out of the 22 recruits in 2010, 21 were on the roster and nine contributed to the title drive to Frisco.

The program has reached a point now that true freshmen aren’t forced to play like they were in the 2010 season. Out of last year’s 20 recruits, 19 were on the roster, while none saw significant playing time.

That is a good thing.

“We are a much deeper football team than we’ve ever been,” Bohl said.

When asked how many from this year’s recruiting class could play next fall, Bohl did his best Johnny Carson “Carnac the Magnificent” impersonation, placing a manila folder over his forehead in a thinking man’s pose. The only thing missing was a turban on top of his head.

“Probably five,” Bohl answered with a smirk. “Our attitude is to win now. There will be nobody who gets redshirted to save something for the future. … So I wouldn’t say that five would be out of the ballpark.”

So it appears, after another national signing day, NDSU has the best of both worlds – returning talent and incoming talent. That’s a far cry from when Evans signed his letter of intent in 2008.

Evans plans to return to the team next fall as a student assistant while finishing his sociology degree. He will be one of the first ones to remind the new recruits to forget about signing day.

“I’ve been through a lot of stuff,” Evans said. “I’ve seen people leave and I’ve seen people come in. I just want to tell these guys that you have to work as hard as you can and try as hard as you can to get on the field.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com