FARGO — The pace at which Adam Cofield answers questions is thoughtful and deliberate, more of an analytical approach. Things change when he puts on a North Dakota State football uniform.
The Cofield who wears No. 18 is entering his senior season with his usual punishing, physical style that puts an emphasis on speed and collision. It’s not for the meek to tackle him.
He is the old man in the backfield, the only senior who will be the starting running back on Oct. 3 when the Bison host Central Arkansas at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. As usual, NDSU will use the back-by-committee approach with Cofield, junior Seth Wilson and sophomore Kobe Johnson getting first cracks with the ball.
There’s more. Redshirt freshman Jalen Bussey and sophomores Saybein Clark and DJ Stewart are expected to get carries.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Cofield said of his seniority status. “It’s a process to just keep continuing to educate these guys, continuing to lead them in the right direction.”
Cofield was a freshman when King Frazier and Chase Morlock were the senior leaders. He spent three years behind Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn. Ty Brooks was the lead senior in the backfield last season.
“Watching them over the years, you see how outspoken and how much they led the younger guys in the right direction,” Cofield said. “Bruce was a very big influence in helping me learn the offense and that’s what I want to do with the younger players.”
The Bison have three true freshmen running backs in Nathan Goldade from West Fargo, TK Marshall from Minneapolis Southwest High School and Dominic Gonnella from Riverview, Fla.
“We have a lot of guys that are very hungry, very humble and ready to work,” Cofield said. “You have a lot of different running styles and it’s a blessing that a lot of us can produce on the field.”
Cofield produced 813 rushing yards last year and was second on the team with 12 touchdowns behind Trey Lance’s 14. His exclamation point was a 71-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 at South Dakota State with 2:32 left in the game that beat the Jackrabbits 23-16.
But for the most part, Cofield was the team’s inside, tough-yardage back. At 5-foot-11 and 211 pounds, he packs a punch.
He averaged 4.9 yards a carry, which was the fewest of NDSU’s returning backs. Johnson averaged 7.7 yards and Lance 6.5. The one-hit wonder was Bussey, who in his one game had 123 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
Stewart made the transition from wide receiver to running back and saw a limited role.
“He brings a dual-type of running back where he can spread out and catch the ball out of the backfield,” Cofield said.
And there’s speculation this year that fullback Hunter Luepke could see various spots on the field from fullback to tailback to tight end and even a slot receiver.
“A Swiss army knife,” said offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl. “He’s really expanded his role within the offense.”
Whatever the case, the Bison will have just one game this fall to showcase their offense with the pandemic forcing the Missouri Valley Football Conference to the spring.
“I think our greatest challenge is keeping everybody healthy and safe and on the field so we can continue to practice,” Cofield said.