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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 19 2012

Prairie View A&M faces Texas-sized challenges

FARGO – It is true that the state of Texas is rich in both oil and high school football players. But when it comes time to attracting recruits, it’s not always easy finding a place in line.

Just ask Prairie View A&M head coach Heishma Northern, who has to battle so many Division I football schools that it’s hard for him to count them all.

“Probably 10 within a two-hour ride of us,” he said.

There is more than that within about three hours, including the University of Houston, Texas, Baylor, Texas-San Antonio, Lamar, Rice, Houston Baptist, Texas Southern, Texas A&M, Texas State, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin. Houston Baptist is in the process of adding the sport and has yet to play a game.

It makes it that much tougher to continue to rebuild the Prairie View image established in the 1990s when the school lost an NCAA-record 80 straight games. Moreover, it was a record by a long shot besting the 44 straight defeats by Columbia (N.Y.) from 1983-88.

It was also the old, non-scholarship Prairie View, which plays at North Dakota State on Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The Panthers now have the full Football Championship Subdivision 63 full rides – a far cry from the winless seasons.

“A team full of walk-ons,” Northern said.

Northern, who played at Southern University, can attest to the difference because he played against Prairie View. The Panthers have had two players in NFL camps the last two years and still have linebacker Adrian Hamilton with the Baltimore Ravens practice squad.

Northern expects linebacker Quinton Spears, who was a final cut with the Cleveland Browns, to get picked up by another team.

They are two players Northern can show incoming recruits that this is no longer you’re mother and father’s Prairie View.

“All they remember is the losing streak,” he said.

Not helping matters, Northern said, is Prairie View’s education base, which centers on engineering, accounting and criminal justice. It does not produce many education majors, and therefore coaches in the high school ranks.

“Take a look at Grambling when Eddie Robinson was coaching,” he said. “He had a kid play for him who would go on to become a coach. He helped keep the pipeline going.”

Prairie View began its scholarship program in the late 90s starting with around 10 to 15. The Panthers went 5-6 last year, but 5-4 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

They’ll be considerable underdogs on Saturday against the No. 1-ranked team in the FCS. But Northern also said NFL scouts are stopping by practice in the last few years, something that never happened at Prairie View.

“That means a lot,” he said. “We make sure that when the recruits come that they see the scouts’ business cards.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia