Dear Bison fans,
So many people ask me questions like, “How did you guys do this?” Or, “What’s the secret?” To me, it’s simple—culture.
The family that is Bison football is unmatched. Every player on the team plays for the guys next to him. At some schools that’s a cliché, but not at NDSU. It’s a mindset, and the guys who don’t play that way, well, they usually don’t stick around long.
The 2015 season was the epitome of what I’m talking about. It was a season that undoubtedly had the most adversity a Bison team had faced during the five-year title run. An opening-game loss to Montana, on national television no less, a loss to USD and the loss of a player who now has a day of the week named after him in Philadelphia.
My class of seniors and the rest of the locker room were dead silent in the team room on Monday following USD game. Not because we were scared or didn’t think we could win another national championship, we just wanted to get the hell out of the team room and start practice so we could prove every doubter wrong. It was the hungriest I have ever seen a team in my career.
That’s what makes Bison football great. The drive to want to be special no matter the circumstances, the refusal to quit and the hunger to be better than the day before. From the classroom to the weight room, to the film room and practice field, we wanted to be great and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The show that 2015 team put on for the remainder of the season following the USD defeat is the embodiment of Bison Pride. We didn’t have time for what anyone else thought. We honestly didn’t care what the score of the game was at the times. We just knew it said “Bison” across our chests and we never fold in the face of adversity, simply because of the players in the ’50s, ’60s ’70s and so on did not.
Former Bison players laid the foundation for us. In fact, some guys before us went out there, risked everything and played, damn well knowing no matter what they did, they couldn’t win a national title. My fellow seniors and I who have five rings are forever indebted to those men who made that sacrifice.
It was a culmination of these things, combined with the drive to prove everyone wrong, that fueled the 2015 run and beat Jacksonville State in Frisco, Texas.
The selflessness within this program is something I guarantee you don’t see at many Division I programs. At any given practice, you will see a few guys making 100-yard jogs from one scout team huddle to another, going from a green scout team jersey to yellow. Go from playing fullback to defensive end to center. Not because that’s their ideal practice that they dreamed of when committing to play college football, but because they knew it was going to make the team better. They knew, the harder they worked against the starters, the better football players they would eventually become.
As a redshirt, Joe Haeg had to block the pass rush of Coulter Boyer, Scott Stoczynski and Cole Jirik. Jordan Champion and C.J. Smith were expected to lock down Warren Holloway, Ryan Smith and Zach Vraa. Brian Schaetz was expected to pass rush against Joe Lund and Austin Richard. The list goes on. Nobody went through the motions because it wasn’t “their time yet.” All of them practiced at 100 miles per hour so they could get better.
There’s no better example than Easton Stick in 2015. The kid committed to NDSU knowing there was a guy named Carson Wentz in front of him. But he used it as a means to get better. Guys in the program are always hungry to get better. In return, it makes everyone around them better and fans get to see the results on game day.
That hunger eliminated complacency. Man, it would have been easy after one, two, three or four national championships to sit there, look in the mirror and say “Damn. I’m a four-time national champion.” Instead, the thought process was, I will go to my absolute limit to make sure my teammates and I become five-time national champions.
Sometimes winning wasn’t even enough. If we won by 30 but knew we didn’t play well, we were ticked, and if you were on the schedule the next week, well, then you better come ready for the Herd.
In my last moments as a Bison, confetti filled the air and I gazed out into a sea of green and gold like I had so many times in my life. This moment was different, though. The feeling wasn’t the same as the previous four years.
I stood there and tried to wrap my mind around what had just happened. I couldn’t do it, and now, over a year later, I still can’t fully grasp it, and honestly I probably never will.
It was a feeling I’ll never forget.
Knowing I had to walk away from a program that saved me so many times in my life was tough. Thinking about not seeing my best friends every day was even harder. Realizing that I would never hear the roar of the Fargodome again as a player was tear jerking.
With all that sadness creeping in, I couldn’t stop smiling. Not because I was a five-time national champion, but because I had something near and dear to my heart that nobody will ever be able to take from me. My Bison Pride.
I, for the rest of my life, have thousands of brothers that would run through a wall for me, answer the phone at odd hours of the morning for me, and most importantly, if given one more down of football, would play for me and all of the other Bison Brothers.
That, folks, is how we won five-straight titles.
Bison football has always been a force to be reckoned with, and always will be.