Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
As you would expect, it was a somber mood in the Bison football locker room after their stunning defeat by the hands of James Madison University in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs. It was the first time in six years a class of seniors would fail to end their Bison careers as national champions. Luckily, NDSU’s third-year head coach was there to put the loss in perspective.
“You’re never defined by a moment,” said Chris Klieman. “You’re always defined by your entire body of work. And this is the best body of work in the history of college football.”
Entering his seventh year at NDSU and fourth as the headman, Klieman knows his football team is ready for a return to the national stage. But there’s plenty of business to take care of first.
Klieman chatted with us two days before players reported for August camp to tell us about the 2017 version of the Bison football team.
KLIEMAN ON WHAT HE TOLD HIS TEAM IN THE LOCKER ROOM AFTER LOSING TO JAMES MADISON
Chris Klieman: In moments like that, you’re really focused on the seniors. I wasn’t really speaking at all to the underclassmen. It was all about those kids that have given their life to the program for the last couple of years.
Now, I hope the underclassmen, whether that was a junior or freshman realizes how it (football) can be over at any time, meaning your season would be over with, a game is over with—from an injury or loss—so cherish every moment you have.
A lot of times, you think maybe last season wasn’t a successful season, and I disagree. You win 12 football games—a lot of people across the country don’t win 12 football games. We won a sixth-straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title. We got beat by a better football team on that day and that was really the message to those older guys is, you’re not defined by just one football game, you’re defined by all the things that you guys have done on the field and more importantly off the field with community service, with academics, and I don’t want them to walk out of this locker room saying, “I was a failure this year.”
KLIEMAN ON WHAT THE NEW OFFENSIVE LINEMEN HAVE TO DO TO SOLIDIFY THEIR SPOT IN THE STARTING LINEUP
CK: They have to be able to communicate with one another. An offensive line-five has to work as one. They really have to be in sync together and there’s a lot more calls than the average fan ever realizes on the offensive line. Not only on what the play call is, but when they come to the line of scrimmage all the different things we talk about, communicate between the center and everybody, then the tackle and guard on the right side and the guard and tackle on the left side and the center and guards inside. We need to make sure that the communication—because that’s where you can get into problems—has to be flawless by the time we get to conference play.
We’re going to have some mistakes—I know we are. We’re going to play some redshirt freshmen and redshirt sophomores who haven’t played a whole lot, but I think they have a world of ability that are going to make mistakes but if they learn from those mistakes. I think we’ll be pretty good up front—time will tell.
KLIEMAN ON WHAT ROLE QUARTERBACK EASTON STICK WILL PLAY IN HELPING THE OFFENSIVE LINE GEL
CK: He’s the calming force in the huddle. If you don’t have that experienced guy, that’s leading your huddle, that’s the difference between the spread offense and a huddle offense. Everyone is working with the sidelines and a spread offense, looking to see what you’re doing. When you’re in a huddle, you need to have a leader. You need to have somebody stand out and say either to kick them in the rear or calm them down and be that voice of reason.
We have Easton Stick back for his third year starting, and he’s still only a junior. Easton has been around a long time. He still has two years of football left. He’s only played half his career. I think the best football for Easton is still in front of him.
KLIEMAN ON WHY NEW COACHES COURTNEY MESSINGHAM AND BUDDHA WILLIAMS FIT THE BISON CULTURE
CK: They know about the Bison culture for starters. When I reached out to both of them about opportunities here, they jumped at the opportunity because they researched what North Dakota State football has been about dating back to the 1960s.
You have to understand, Courtney Messingham played for Coach (Darrell) Mudra like I did. So he knew Darrell Mudra was a big part of the success at North Dakota State in the 1960s. We learned about that culture a long time ago. But we learned about that culture when we played for him in the ‘80s. So, we knew, Courtney knew about North Dakota State.
The opportunity to get back with a guy that you grew up with, that I trust unconditionally, and he trusts me unconditionally. We’re probably going to argue and fight on some things but we’ll walk away still as really close friends. That’s something that, in this profession, is a unique trait to have. To have that guy that you can bounce ideas off of, you can challenge each other. But I know that Courtney will help us offensively be more efficient in the passing game.