It took a few years, and a few North Dakota State national titles, before the NFL draft caught up to the FCS dynasty.
The Bison won national titles in 2011, '12, and '13, but offensive tackle Billy Turner's selection by the Miami Dolphins in 2014 (third round) marked the first North Dakota State draftee in five years.
The run of national titles has continued — eight in the last nine years — and so have the draft selections: six since 2014. It's the most draft picks among FCS schools in that time. Tennessee State, with five, is the only other program with more than three.
North Dakota State is expected to lead the way again for the FCS in 2021. Offensive tackle Dillon Radunz is regarded as the top senior prospect in the subdivision, expected to be taken in the first three rounds of the April 29-May 1 draft. Quarterback Trey Lance will be the top prize of the FCS draft class if, as NFL teams expect, he enters as an underclassman. If so, then Lance played his final college game this past Saturday in a 39-28 win over Central Arkansas — the Bison's only fall game before their season resumes in the spring.
Radunz ended his career with Saturday's game and will move into full-time training for the draft. After the game, he became the first player to receive an invitation to the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl, whose executive director, Jim Nagy, praises the Bison dynasty for preparing players for the next level.
"They do a great job there," Nagy said. “If you look at the field, schematically they do a lot of apples-to-apples things (to NFL teams) in term of their offensive scheme. When you're trying to evaluate quarterbacks, the guy gets under center and has control at the line of scrimmage and can actually take a snap, those are things that you don't see at most (FCS) schools. Anytime you can make an apple-to-apple (comparison) and you don't really have to make a projection into a scheme, you've actually seen something and helps the evaluation.
"The impressive thing is it's been through three different (coaching) regimes now. You've had two coaches move on and get FBS jobs and they've done a great job keeping that thing going. Usually, there's a little drop-off when the first guy leaves, and there wasn't. They've continued to sustain it."
After Turner's draft selection in 2014, North Dakota State has followed with defensive end/outside linebacker Kyle Emanuel (2015, San Diego Chargers, fifth round), quarterback Carson Wentz (2016, Philadelphia Eagles, first), offensive tackle Joe Haeg (2016, Indianapolis Colts, fifth), quarterback Easton Stick (2019, Los Angeles Chargers, fifth) and defensive end/outside linebacker Derrek Tuszka (2020, Denver Broncos, seventh). Wentz, picked second overall in 2016, is the highest FCS draft selection in history.
There are 11 Bison players on 2020 NFL active rosters and practice squads, more than any other FCS school.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of NDSU Athletics)