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UND, NDSU recruits highlight Badlands Bowl roster

Fargo South quarterback Jack Pifer looks to pass during Monday's Badlands Bowl practice at Dickinson State University on June 12, 2017. Parker Cotton / Forum News Service1 / 3
Hankinson tight end Cody Mauch, right, engages at the line of scrimmage against Fargo Davies cornerback Alex York during Tuesday's Badlands Bowl practice at Dickinson State University on June 13, 2017. Parker Cotton / Forum News Service2 / 3
West Fargo offensive lineman Zach Willis, right, pass blocks against Bismarck Century's Seth Braun during Wednesday's Badlands Bowl practice at Dickinson State University on June 14, 2017. Parker Cotton / Forum News Service3 / 3

DICKINSON, N.D. — These are the final few days of Jack Pifer's career as a high school quarterback, and he's determined to make the most of them.

On the turf of Dickinson State University's Biesiot Activities Center this week, the former Fargo South player has been slinging passes to a star-studded group of receivers from across the state in preparation for Saturday's Badlands Bowl in Miles City, Mont. Game time is set for 6 p.m. Mountain Time from Connors Stadium.

"It's a good last hurrah for my high school years of playing that position," Pifer said Wednesday. "We have a lot of talent here. I'm throwing to a lot of guys that can make some good plays and make me look better than I am."

In the fall, the 6-foot-3 Pifer will be a preferred walk-on at the University of North Dakota, but he will arrive as a wide receiver — a position he's never played.

"I think it'll be a little bit challenging," Pifer said of the switch, "but the fact that I played quarterback before gives me a lot of knowledge on the offensive side of the ball so it won't be that hard of an adjustment."

Coincidentally, Pifer has been splitting quarterback reps this week with Dickinson High's Shawn Steffan, another quarterback who will switch to wide receiver when he arrives at Bemidji State.

"I think (Pifer's) strong suit is his knowledge of the game," Team North Dakota and retiring Rugby head coach Scott Grochow said. "He's making that switch to wide receiver, and he understands where they belong and what you want them to do. Steffan's doing the same thing, and it's the same thing with both those guys. They're very, very knowledgeable."

Future Bison becoming fast friends

Former West Fargo lineman Zach Willis has been on the North Dakota State bandwagon long before there was a bandwagon to be on.

Before the Bison's string of FCS national championships or NFL Draft picks, Willis was there.

"I was excited to go there before any of this happened," Willis said. "I was there for the 3-8 days (in 2009), when you could buy a Bison general admission ticket. Now they sell out in five minutes. It's been a huge dream my whole life, and now it's just happening at a great time, and I'm excited to keep that tradition going."

Willis, who is practicing at offensive guard, and Hankinson tight end Cody Mauch are NDSU's two recruits on this year's Badlands Bowl roster, and they've been using the week to get to know each other a little better.

"Ever since we both committed, we've been all talking as a group, and we started (NDSU) workouts last week, so I was hanging out with him every day," said Mauch, who will be a walk-on. "He's a really nice guy, and it'll be fun having him on my team."

Willis said the week of Badlands Bowl practices have introduced him to the talent level from around the state, and that includes the 6-foot-5 Mauch.

"You're facing the best in North Dakota, and there are some dudes out here that should be at NDSU, honestly," Willis said. "Getting to know Cody as a ballplayer, I had never seen him play before, but he's a baller out here."

Mauch, who was also on the Pirates track and field team and was named Class B second-team all-state in basketball as a senior, said it has been invigorating to get back on the football field after an extended time away.

"In our high school playoffs, we got knocked out in the quarterfinals, so it's nice to — I don't want to say finish it — but to get back out and play some football is really nice," he said.

Grochow said Mauch and Willis have been valuable to Team North Dakota in practices this week.

"They bring that size factor, that mentality factor, they bring that wanting-to-play factor," Grochow said. "It was really interesting, the first time I met Willis and we were talking about where we were going to put him, and he said, 'Just put me somewhere where I'm going to hit somebody.' That's the kind of guys we want. Both are very intelligent young men, both very articulate. I can see where they fit that big-time mold."

Parker Cotton

Cotton is the sports editor at The Press, where he covers the area's high schools. He came to The Press as the Multimedia Editor in May 2015 after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with his master's degree in Sociological Practice. He holds undergraduate degrees in Journalism and Sociology from UNC, as well.