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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 06 2013

Illinois State's strategy with FBS transfers starts to look similar to NDSU's

FARGO – The series is just in its infancy, but the prized Illinois State win over North Dakota State was in 2010. On a beautiful homecoming day in Normal, Ill., the Redbirds won 34-24.

They did it with a devastating rushing attack that saw Ashton Leggett gain 146 yards and Erik Smith 113. Leggett was a transfer from Michigan State, while Smith came from the University of Wisconsin.

It was a time when head coach Brock Spack was looking for immediate help and FBS transfers were common with the Redbirds.

“We felt we had a talent gap when we took the program over,” he said. “We tried to put a finger in the dam so to speak. We had a few leaks, and we felt we needed help at certain positions. But we’ve toned that down a little bit.”

ISU has toned it down to perhaps more reflect NDSU’s philosophy.

The Redbirds will have seven FBS transfers in their two-deep roster when they play at NDSU on Saturday afternoon. Three of them start in offensive linemen Mike Liedtke (Western Michigan) and Jermaine Barton (Miami) and defensive tackle Albert Sparks (Buffalo).

“We didn’t take as many (FBS transfers) last year, and I don’t think you’ll see us taking as many this year,” Spack said.

NDSU head coach Craig Bohl was in a similar situation when he took the Bison head position in 2003. The 2004 team had eight junior college transfers, with most filling an immediate need on the defensive line.

The Bison were either undersized or not fast enough at the position at the Division I level. Still, FBS transfers have been rare at NDSU.

The philosophy is simple: Recruit high school players and develop them over the course of four or five years.

“I think it’s about teaching kids to buy into it from a young age,” said NDSU linebacker Grant Olson. “The older guys get a little bit prideful in the way of doing things. They’ve been here awhile, and the young guys haven’t been through the fire – haven’t experienced games in crunch time situations. You can mold them into believing what the program is all about.”

The Bison took offensive tackle Paul Backowski from Colorado and Jeff Bohlman from Air Force in 2007, although both were from Minnesota high schools. In 2008, defensive back Darius Purcell transferred from Illinois and quarterback Andrew Fabry came from Arizona State.

About the only FBS success story for the Bison under Bohl is kicker Ryan Jastram, who transferred from New Mexico State prior to the 2009 season.

The Bison have actually gone the other way with the transfer route – taking four players from NAIA Valley City State or NCAA Division II Bemidji State in the last few years. Otherwise, signing day is a geographical lesson on high schools.

ISU did the same last February, signing 17 high school players. The one FBS transfer – quarterback Jared Barnett from Iowa State – left the team earlier this year after starting two games.


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