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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 13 2013

Several Bison football players need to address injuries after another long season

FARGO – The North Dakota State football team has played almost three-seasons worth of games, 30, in the last two years. It’s a gauntlet the Bison attacked and the back-to-back NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision titles did not come without a price.

Thirty games will be felt this month in the name of several injuries that will be addressed with either rest or some type of surgery. It’s to the point that head coach Craig Bohl said he’s not certain if the Bison will play their annual spring game.

“I told our marketing people, everybody thinks we’re going to have a spring game,” Bohl said. “I’d like to think we are, but you never know.”

It’s possible several starters will take up to a month off while other players will get right into winter workouts. The fact NDSU returns a veteran team and 20 starters next year will put more of a premium on health and less on development.

“It’s not like we look up on the board and go we’re in a world of hurt, I don’t know who’s going to start here or there,” Bohl said. “I think we have a plan to come up with our starting lineup. What we’re looking for is to make sure we have depth.”

Bohl said junior defensive tackle Justin Juckem has given up the game after battling reoccurring knee issues. It got to the point where Juckem, who two years ago was on the verge of being one of the top linemen in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, practiced just once a week and saw five to six plays in a game.

“We’ll miss his presence as far as determination,” Bohl said.

Sam Hahn, a redshirt offensive lineman, has transferred to the University of Nebraska, his home state. Otherwise, there appeared to be no surprises when the players came back for the second semester, Bohl said.

The two most pressing positions that will be addressed in the offseason are center and cornerback, where the Bison lose seniors Joe Lund and Andre Martin. Bohl said guards Josh Colville or Tyler Gimmestad could be moved to center to challenge for the top job along with backup Adam Schueller.

At cornerback, the starter will most likely come out of Brendin Pierre, Zach Colvin, C.J. Smith and Jordan Champion. Bohl said redshirt freshman safety Marcus Brantley could switch positions.

With Juckem gone, redshirt freshmen Brett Pierce and Austin Farnlof will get a serious look in the middle.

DeSean Warren, a redshirt freshman receiver who suffered an ACL injury in fall camp, is back running and could be ready for spring football. Safety Colten Heagle, who suffered the same injury the second game of the year, may participate in non-contact spring drills.

The jury appears still out on backup running back Matt Jones, who didn’t make the title trip because of concussion issues.

Besides injuries, the playoff run was not a friend to the recruiting trail, either. Bohl said NDSU did not handle it as well as it should have two years ago when it reached the quarterfinals.

“We got better last year and we’re further ahead this year,” he said. “It’s hard. Everybody else is talking to kids and you’re working here to win the next game.”

In addressing the issue, Bohl said NDSU was more aggressive with earlier offers, which he also said can get “dicey.”

“It gives you a base going into these last couple of weeks,” he said.

Tight end Connor Wentz, linebacker James Gates and running back Clarence Smith committed over the weekend to NDSU according to several sources giving the Bison 15 verbal commitments.

Wentz, 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, is from Dunnellon, Fla. He is the cousin of Bison backup QB Carson Wentz. The 6-3, 210-pound Smith is from Youngker High School in Buckeye, Ariz. He also had offers from North Dakota and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, according to Rivals.com.

The 6-2, 194-pound Gates, from Menomonie, Wis., is a two-time Wisconsin Football Coaches’ Association all-state selection. Wisconsin Sports Net first confirmed his commitment. Gates is the sixth player from the state to verbal to NDSU with all six being ranked in the top 25 in-state recruits by WSN.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at