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New NCAA redshirt rule gets a thumbs-up from Missouri Valley coaches

Trey Lance of Marshall, Minn., is one of 28 true freshmen on the North Dakota State football team who could play this season up to four games this season without losing a year of eligibility. Forum News Service photo

FARGO—Practice starts this week for teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. For the true freshmen in the league who are getting their first taste of college ball, no longer is it a given that almost all of them will redshirt.

A new NCAA rule passed in the offseason allows teams to play true freshmen up to four games without the player losing a year of eligibility. That means when North Dakota State begins practice on Friday, the 28 true freshmen in theory will be out to prove they can play right away.

"Most importantly it changes the mindset of a freshman," said Indiana State head coach Curt Mallory. "Hey, anytime you can play."

The four allowable games can be at any point in the season. The rule appears to be received favorably by Valley coaches, who like having the option of either finding out if a true freshman can make a difference in the Valley or the comfort of having more depth if needed.

Whether the rule has any impact is debatable. Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini, for instance, said it's not going to change his team very much.

"I think every staff is going to use it to a certain extent," Pelini said, "but it's not that big of a deal. Usually you're ready or you're not. You're in the mix or you're not. It gives you the flexibility with a young man."

Figuring out which games to use the rule could be the key, said Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley. The Panthers will be able to travel their their entire roster in road games to open the season at Montana and Iowa.

Once the league season begins, that could change. The Valley has a maximum-allowable travel squad of 63 players.

"I think it will be more evident in home games or non-conference games," Farley said.

At NDSU, it appears there are a few possibilities of true freshmen getting a prime time shot with the skill-position players in the best position. That could include the likes of quarterback Trey Lance from Marshall, Minn., or one of the wide receivers like Phoenix Sproles from New Hope, Minn., Kenneth Channelle from Jacksonville, Fla., or Zach Mathis from Tampa.

Redshirt freshmen Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders are battling for the backup quarterback job behind senior Easton Stick. At receiver, NDSU returns Darrius Shepherd who led the team with 41 receptions last year but the next returning receiver was Dimitri Williams with seven catches. Bison head coach Chris Klieman said touted redshirt freshman receiver Christian Watson will miss the first part of August because of injury.

The Bison return 13 starters from last year and another 18 players who have seen significant playing time. NDSU head coach Chris Klieman, who is a big advocate of the four-game redshirt rule, said the key in the Valley is who's behind those 13 starters on the depth chart.

"We have a number of guys returning both offensively and defensively," Klieman said, "and the key for us is to be able to develop some young guys and develop some depth. In this league as good as it is, it's your second-line guys or guys you're maybe a little unsure of now that make the difference in tight games late in the season."

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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