UND welcomes 2015 football recruiting class

Head coach Bubba Schweigert announces 27 additions to football program on Wednesday

Jordan Hinojosa (center) walks on the field at the Alerus Center with his UND football teammates during the Fall 2014 season. Photo by Nicholas Nelson/The Dakota Student.

Last year, a new era of UND football began under the guidance of Bubba Schweigert in his inaugural year as head coach.

A fall season proved to move the team in a productive direction, and Wednesday’s National Signing Day included 27 new additions to a UND roster focused on continuous improvement.

Twenty players signed national letters of intent, while seven were guaranteed a spot on the roster for fall camp and committed to playing collegiately at UND.

“We’re excited about the class that we have committed and signed today,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “We really appreciate the work of our staff — with a lot of hard work, evaluating guys, starting with guys last winter and spring, and then getting to our camp, getting them here on campus, getting them to a game and then official visits.”

Schweigert’s staff got together for the first time last year on Jan. 15. Just one day later, they welcomed prospects with official visits.

This year, the opportunity to see firsthand the advancement of players’ abilities and the chance to developed relationships proved beneficial.

“We were able to develop relationships with families, with prospects,” Schweigert said. “I think we were able to evaluate for a much longer time. We were able to evaluate guys in person — whether they were at campus, or on our campus or other campuses — just a completely different feel to this signing class. And I felt good (about) the guys we signed last year, but it was much better this year when you get to know guys.”

With transfers leaving UND during the hiring process last year and some freshmen receiving a chance to play, the team relied on its depth.

This year is no different. Veterans may be solid in their roles, but newcomers may prove just as capable.

“We feel a number of these guys have an opportunity to contribute, and our current players know all jobs are open on our football team,” Schweigert said.  “We just move forward, and we have a depth chart right now for spring. But is our depth chart set for how we’re going to start the 2015 season? I don’t know. So that’s what the players decide.”

Many of those players are familiar with the area. Six members of the recruiting class hail from North Dakota, while nine call Minnesota home. UND also welcomed three players each from Colorado and Manitoba, two from Michigan, and one each from Alberta, California, Missouri and Kansas.

Schweigert believes the best fits for his program are guys that see snow.

“The Midwest is very important to our football program, and we’re going to do everything we can to recruit in the Midwest,” Schweigert said. “We understand that to compete in the Big Sky, we’re going to have to find the talent in other areas … but any young man that we have the opportunity to play for us from North Dakota or Minnesota, we’ve got to somehow find a way to give them that opportunity.”

Schweigert calls the tiny town of Zeeland, N.D. home. Sitting near the South Dakota border in the middle of the state, Zeeland had a most recent population recorded at 86 people.

Nearly a handful of his recruiting class comes from a similar background, and he knows they’ll have the chance for major development.

“I don’t keep it a secret,” Schweigert said. “I have a spot in my heart for guys in this state. Coming in from a 9-man program, I know what those guys go through … They’re going to develop a lot when they have an opportunity to have a position coach and a full time strength coach. Their upside is huge and we’re going to give them that opportunity if we feel they have that talent and that ability to play at this level.”

Carter Blackwell, a Dickinson, N.D., native and wide receiver, moved to the state from Texas a few years ago, but understands the recruiting process well with a father that works as a Division I volleyball coach.

From a few hours away in New Town, N.D., offensive lineman Elijah Grady’s abilities resonate on and off the field.

“Elijah is just a really fine, young person,” Schweigert said. “When you get to know this guys, he is a good, young man and we like his ability. Being on a state contending basketball team has helped his development … He’s such a great teammate.”

Brad Heidlebaugh is 6’5’’ and 200 pounds, but that doesn’t limit his abilities in any area as the Rugby, N.D., native can long jump 22’7’’.

“That’s a pretty good athlete, and we’re going to give him an opportunity at quarterback,” Schweigert said.

Tight end Luke Keller comes from a successful football program in Bismarck, N.D. while brothers Aidan Hartness (quarterback) and Tristan Hartness (wide receiver) from Fargo, N.D. bring a competitive spirit.

North Dakota recruits only make up a portion of this year’s recruiting class, and Schweigert is looking forward to what this group will accomplish.

“We’re excited about the young men we have committed,” he said. “We think they’ll move us in the right direction. Our goal to move our program to the top of the Big Sky, and if you do that, you’re in the tournament. And if you’re in the tournament, you have a chance to do really good things.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].