FARGO — North Dakota State receiver Phoenix Sproles is a 6-foot speed guy who can mix it up with anybody on the field. They’re called “perimeter rams” on the team and if blocking isn’t the thing for a receiver, then the bench probably is.
So Sproles knows an imposing player when he sees one. In the case of Bison junior tight ends Noah Gindorff and Josh Babicz, he sees double trouble.
“They are just walking open targets,” Sproles said. “They have the ability to make guys miss and being 6-6 and being able to make guys miss is scary.”
Gindorff is 6-6, 267 pounds. Babicz is 6-6, 254. NDSU lost tight end Ben Ellefson to graduation and the NFL but the Bison aren’t expected to lose production at the position.
“We know we’re two leaders in the room and I think there’s going to be a lot of weight on our shoulders,” Gindorff said. “But I think we’ve put in the work and we’re ready for the workload.”
The workload this fall translates to one game, Saturday afternoon against Central Arkansas at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. In Ellefson, the Bison will be looking to replace a multi-dimensional player who was adept at blocking and receiving.
Of Ellefson’s 15 receptions, five went for touchdowns. Combined, Gindorff and Babicz were better with Gindorff getting six touchdowns with his 10 receptions and Babicz five TDS with his 12 catches.
That’s 11 touchdowns in 22 receptions, a 50 percent scoring success clip.
“It always comes down to making plays when they present themselves,” Gindorff said. “Last year I felt I did a pretty good job making plays when they came to me. Just building confidence within the coaching staff to rely on me to make some plays.”
Gindorff came to NDSU a highly-touted player in 2017, spurning a late effort from the University of Minnesota to maintain his verbal commitment. He was probably known more for his basketball highlights at Crosby-Ironton High School (Minn.) and asked if he can still slam a 360-degree dunk he wasn’t sure.
Football is his thing and there’s no questioning he has next-level size for a tight end. He’ll have two years to follow the path that Ellefson created.
“Ben was a great mentor,” Gindorff said. “He’s a great friend to me and most of the stuff I learned from him was off the field, just the way he carries himself in the community or taking care of his body. All the extra stuff he does. He was a great guy to have around and a guy I learned a lot from.”
Gindorff is expected to be part of an explosive offense that returns most of its firepower from last season. The talk around the country is it could be Trey Lance’s last game as a Bison quarterback, and senior offensive tackle Dillon Radunz is leaving to train for the NFL. But that doesn’t mean there could be a huge drop-off in the spring when the Missouri Valley Football Conference plays eight games.
Gindorff, for one, came on the scene last year starting eight of the 16 games. He redshirted in 2017 and didn’t have a catch in 2018, a season that was limited because of injury.
“I would say the biggest adjustment is getting used to the pace of the game compared to practice, seeing all the different looks in real time,” he said. “It’s way different than practice. As much as we try to emulate the looks during the week, you get to Saturday and it’s a different beast.”
Speaking of beasts, Sproles was asked what he looks like standing next to Gindorff and Babicz. He referenced a former Bison running back next to a pair of offensive linemen.
“I probably look like Ty Brooks next to Dillon Radunz and Cordell Volson,” he said.