The head coach of the North Dakota State football team and his 10 full-time assistants traveled to Minnesota last year on a two-day recruiting trip. They dubbed their mission the "Minneapolis Takeover."
Except the coaches didn't limit their stay strictly to Minneapolis. They fanned out across the state, visiting 100 schools to make their sales pitch about the Bison program.
"When we talk about recruiting locally," said NDSU coach Matt Entz, "we talk about the entire state of Minnesota."
They have company in their neighbors to the south. South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said more high school teams from Minnesota attend the Jackrabbits' summer team camp than any other state besides South Dakota.
"We're glad they're as close as they are and they're open to looking at South Dakota State," Stiegelmeier said.
When the two rivals battle for the FCS national championship Sunday in Texas, there will be a Minnesota feel to it. The two rosters include 45 Minnesotans, with NDSU claiming the lion's share at 35.
As a high school player in Marshall, Reece Winkelman went to SDSU's team camp and NDSU's individual camp in the same summer. He ultimately chose SDSU and is now a senior defensive end.
"I was looking at the depth chart for NDSU and you see so many different Minnesota names," Winkelman said. "You recognize a lot of them. Some of those guys I played against in high school."
Both programs put a premium on recruiting Minnesota as they built powerhouses at the FCS level. NDSU stands above all others as the gold standard, winners of nine national titles since 2011.
Fargo's proximity to Minnesota's talent pool gives it a natural recruiting base. Entz also noted that the Twin Cities is home to a large and expanding alumni network, which helps with name recognition.
More than anything, collecting national championship trophies is the best way to establish credibility in recruiting.
"The state high school coaches recognize the level of play that we have here," Entz said.
Here's more proof that resonates with recruits: In Week 1 of this NFL season, 15 former NDSU players were on NFL rosters. That included quarterback Trey Lance of Marshall, the No. 3 overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2021.
Entz said his staff typically visits 60-70% of Minnesota high schools every year, describing the continual flow of talent as "critical."
"It's easy to identify the five-star kids in the state of Minnesota," he said. "We need to continue to identify those underdeveloped, big, long bodies that are super athletic."
The two programs made the jump from Division II to Division I together in 2004. Their success provides attractive options for Minnesota recruits who might be late bloomers, overlooked, or a tad undersized at their position.
Their rosters are filled with players who feel slighted after being passed over by the Gophers and other Big Ten and FBS programs. A vast majority of these players found the right fit athletically.
The top players on these teams are undeniably talented enough now to play at that higher level. They landed in the Dakotas because they were viewed as borderline recruits but developed into overachievers — and NFL prospects in some cases — under terrific coaching.
The talent gap, though, is not as wide as it once was. NDSU has won six of its past seven games against FBS opponents since 2010. Given the Bison's unparalleled success, college football observers wonder when the program will move up a classification to FBS.
"Minnesota is a state where there is definitely some great athletes who get slept on," said Bison junior running back TK Marshall, a Minneapolis Southwest graduate. "The championship-winning team was definitely a big motivator for me coming here."
Motivation won't be a problem Sunday. The programs profess mutual respect, but they don't like one another. Winkelman described the rivalry as their version of Gophers-Badgers.
This is the 114th meeting, dating to 1903. The schools created the Dakota Marker trophy in 2004 after transitioning to FCS and a new conference. This is their first meeting in the national championship, which takes the rivalry to a new level.
Stiegelmeier cautioned his players to avoid "outside noise" in the buildup, though it was inescapable.
"Case in point: I've got a guy at church telling me to watch the personal fouls," Stiegelmeier said. "I go to Burger King with my wife, I've got two other people telling us what to do. I get a text from a guy who explains how to win the game."
The Jackrabbits find themselves in the unusual position of favorites, having won 13 consecutive games after opening the season with a 7-3 loss at Iowa. Their streak includes a 23-21 victory at NDSU.
The Bison are defending champions and 9-0 in FCS title games.
"There's a lot of hate between the two teams," Winkelman said, "but also a lot of respect."
And a lot of players from Minnesota who found a home in this beautiful rivalry.