Editors Note: Here’s part one of our four-part Signing for the Future series featured in the March issue of Bison Illustrated.
The summer camps, the extra reps in the weight room and the additional conditioning has led thousands of promising football players to this day; a day they will forever remember called Signing Day. Whether they’re in front of a gymnasium with their family and classmates cheering them on or in their counselor’s office before class, once a high school student signs his National Letter of Intent, his future is set. But for some, the road to playing college football has more bends and twists than the Red River. Here are four stories of recruits turned Bison football players and their paths that led them to the green and gold.
By Joe Kerlin
Undersized and Undervalued
When Bison left tackle Joe Haeg was in 8th grade, he was an undersized offensive lineman fighting for playing time on his junior high’s B-Team.
Haeg’s head high school football coach Ron Stolski describes Haeg as “smallish” during this point of his career, but that didn’t mean Stolski wasn’t keeping an eye on him.
“The first thing you always look for in any athlete is feet,” Stolski said. “Joe started to grow and grow length; you could see that Joe had that quick first step.”
By Haeg’s sophomore season, he was growing at a rapid pace. The next important step Stolski credits Haeg’s development to was his ability to work in the weight room.
The ironwill of the Haeg that Bison fans have grown accustomed to seeing out of the team’s best lineman first showed itself in the weight room at Brainerd High School. The work Haeg put into lifting weights quickly translated to domination on the prep gridiron.
“You’re going to play like hell to beat Joe Haeg,” Stolski said. “He was a quiet player, quiet leader but with fierce determination.”
Haeg could have all the determination in the world, but the three closest Division I football programs weren’t offering him a scholarship immediately out of high school. The University of North Dakota and North Dakota State showed modest interest as Haeg’s senior season progressed and the University of Minnesota didn’t bother catching a glimpse at what Haeg had to offer. This was a mistake Gopher head coach Jerry Kill would later tell Stolski he regrets.
The closest Haeg came to a Division I scholarship offer was from UND to play for head coach Chris Mussman.
“UND was telling me I was going to get a scholarship, but it was only going to be a half to a quarter,” Haeg said. “Then a week before my visit, the offensive line coach that liked me left and went to a different college.”
Mussman told Haeg during his visit they had offered the scholarship to the bigger offensive lineman. Disappointed, Haeg figured he would end up walking on at UND, but then he received a phone call.
Haeg was in a McDonalds four days before signing day when Bison offensive coordinator Brent Vigen gave him a call.
“They were always honest with me, which I really liked,” Haeg said about NDSU recruiting process with the Brainerd lineman. “There was never any hinting at a scholarship, but I knew that I liked the coaches here. Coach (Scott) Fuchs really liked my athleticism and my ability to get up to the weight to become better.”
When signing day arrived Haeg selected NDSU to become a preferred walk-on. As Stolski put it best, “The rest is pretty damn good history.”
Haeg gained 40 pounds from the beginning of his senior year to his second year at NDSU. In 2012, he was quickly inserted into the starting in the first game against Robert Morris as a redshirt freshman.
Haeg was named a 2014 first-team All-American and has proved to not only the coaches that didn’t recruit him, but to himself, that he belongs in the trenches with the best college football players in the country.