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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 05 2013

Wisconsin recruiting pipeline again pays off for Bison

FARGO – North Dakota State is expected to sign between 18 and 20 players today. For about 33 percent of the class, you can grab a camera and utter two words: Say cheese.

As in the “cheesehead” state of Wisconsin, where six players are expected to make it official by signing letters of intent with the Bison today – the first day that players can do so.

It marks the end of a long process where many Wisconsin high school players hope a scholarship offer comes from the University of Wisconsin, but in many cases ends up being a choice between a preferred walkon opportunity with the Badgers or a scholarship offer from a Football Championship Subdivision school like North Dakota State.

“Obviously there’s the financial part of it,” said Joe LaBuda, the head coach at Menomonie High School in Wisconsin. “But also, sometimes, when you’re a walkon, some kids look at it as, where do I see myself fitting in? Where do they see me fitting in?”

It’s an easy question to answer at NDSU, where money talks this time of the year. From Wisconsin, the Bison are expected to sign linebackers James Gates from Menomonie and Alex Hahn from Oak Creek, defensive linemen Nathan Tanguay from Mukwonago, Grant Morgan from Oshkosh North and Nick Jacobsen from Prescott and defensive end Brad Ambrosius from West DePere. Jacobsen may also be a possibility on the offensive line.

In addition, receiver Drew Davis from Eau Claire is expected to join the team as a preferred walkon.

Three of the players had an apparent Football Bowl Subdivision offer of some type, or at least interest of an offer with Tanguay (Army), Jacobsen (Pittsburgh) and Morgan (Central Michigan). Gates had initial interest from Central Michigan, but the fact he didn’t attend its summer camp – he did go to NDSU’s camp – may have hurt his MAC chances, LaBuda said.

Gates was rated the No. 1 linebacker prospect by Wisconsin Sports Net, an in-state online publication that specializes in high school athletics.

“Wisconsin has been a primary area for North Dakota State since the ’60s,” said NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. “This year, there are more general prospects in the state than in the past, so we’re in hopes the state of Wisconsin will be good to NDSU.”

LaBuda calls Gates the best “edge player” to ever play in Menomonie’s conference – and that’s saying something, considering the school has the most playoff wins in state history.

Gates said the preferred walkon offer from Wisconsin “sort of caught me off guard.” He toured the Madison school, but felt NDSU was a better fit for him.

“After NDSU offered, there was no decision for me,” Gates said. “They have a really good tradition and it’s similar to what it is here. Fargo and Menomonie have a lot of similarities in how the towns buy into it.”

LaBuda got more specific, saying NDSU’s two FCS national championships played a big part in Gates’ decision. Moreover, the change in coaching staffs at Wisconsin with Bret Bielema taking the Arkansas job benefitted NDSU.

“The old staff was recruiting him,” LaBuda said. “They asked him to be a preferred walkon and that’s the way they’ve done it unless you’re an offensive lineman. That’s the way Wisconsin’s been, but they’ve been successful with it.”

NDSU’s primary recruiter in Wisconsin this year was assistant Tim Polasek, who grew up in the state.

But Polasek also left for Northern Illinois last month. Bohl said it hasn’t been determined who will take Polasek’s spot, although defensive line coach Nick Goeser is from Wisconsin.

“Some of it is contingent on the guy we hire,” Bohl said.

Asked if he’s concerned Polasek’s connections in Wisconsin will steer more kids to NIU, Bohl said, “Every year is a new challenge. We’re happy for coach Polasek and we’re looking forward to our future.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia