The point is this: It takes less time to fly from Chicago and land a plane a few blocks from Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome than it does for at least 10 parents of Bison football players from the state of North Dakota to drive from their town to Fargo. In the modern world of Division I football recruiting, it means everything.
It’s helped Bison football coaches attract 11 players from the state of Illinois to NDSU — the fourth most populated state on the Bison roster. It’s nothing new in the Division I era; punter Ben LeCompte and running back Sam Ojuri were major factors in the FCS national title run.
And the Division I era started with the likes of Chicago-area players like Joe Mays, Mike Dragosavich and Steve Walker.
But the 11 on this roster is an Illinois hometown record.
It’s a point of emphasis this week because NDSU hits the road to Illinois State for the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener on Saturday. For many friends and family of Illinois Bison, it’s a drive of less than two hours from the Chicago area to Hancock Stadium in Normal.
Which is about the flight time from O’Hare to Hector.
“It makes it easier to go home,” said Bison freshman defensive back Julian Wlodarczyk, from Naperville. “And it’s definitely eased the fear of my parents and it’s given them the opportunity to see me more and that’s always great.”
Get used to this kid’s name and let’s start with the basics. It’s pronounced Wa-Dar-Sick. He’s 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, a very big backup safety, who is playing on special teams.
Bison coaches have successfully recruited Illinois dating back to former assistant Glenn Caruso in the Division II era. Lately, it’s been Joe Klanderman (now at Kansas State) and current defensive coordinator David Braun.
They concentrate on the suburbs north and west of Chicago and the reason is simple: The coaches would go batty trying to recruit the entire state.
“There are 400 high schools in the metro area of Chicago,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz. “We couldn’t do it justice if we tried to recruit it all. We wouldn’t recruit anybody.”
It appears what NDSU gets in these Illinois kids is what it gets from players in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Toughness.
“I think people in the Midwest in general, we’re hard-working people,” Wlodarczyk said. “We like to get things done and NDSU is a place to get things done. You see some speed in high schools in California and Florida. I think Illinois football is looked down upon but you don’t see the level of physicality that we have.”
Did somebody say physicality? The water around the dome this week was not from the rain; it was the drooling of Bison coaches when they heard about their recruits talking about high school physicality.
“It’s really competitive,” said tight end Josh Babicz, from Barrington, Ill. “There are so many teams and with how big Illinois is and how big these high schools are, you get a lot of players you can compete against every time you go out on the field.”
NDSU isn’t the only school that has a virtual apartment in metro Chicago. Practically everybody does. It’s like the Denver area, southern California, Florida and Texas. Every Division I program tries to get some recruiting connection somewhere in the country’s hot spots.
Count Illinois State head coach Brock Spack as somebody who doesn’t care for the competition, who said the Chicago area “gets inundated with a lot of people.” Babicz narrowed his choices to the Redbirds and Bison. Illinois State recruited Wlodarczyk.
On top of that, high school recruits are from arguably the greatest sports town in America. It has it all. Cubs. White Sox. Bears. Blackhawks. Bulls. Big Ten. Small college. Minor league baseball.
“All year around, I could be cheering for any sports team,” Babicz said. “It’s a great city to be in just for sports.”
Plus, it’s a city with two major airports. NDSU loves that recruiting message.