Feature Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
Action Photo by Tim Sanger/NDSU Athletics
It’s not far-fetched to call NDSU football a dynasty. With six titles in seven years under their belt currently, including a run of five in a row, that checks off all the boxes if you’re looking for a dynasty. However, the Bison are always looking for more. In their minds, it is not a dynasty, it is simply a quest for dominance and success. In turn, they uphold the traditions laid down by their forefathers on the gridiron.
This year’s Bison team, in particular, has been especially dominant. To this point, they have outscored their opponents by a staggering 41 to 12 margin. That 29-point margin is staggering even when you take into account the vast scope of supremacy this program has had dating back to the Division II days. For Zack Johnson and the Bison, it’s not that big of a deal; they just look to come out of every game with a victory. That goal has been made slightly easier as each of their games from here on out will be at the Fargodome. Well, all of them, except the title game in Frisco, Texas.
Johnson, a junior from Blaine, Minnesota, is playing his best football at the right time. He was named Missouri Valley Offensive Lineman of the Week following NDSU’s 65-14 victory over Southern Illinois in the regular season finale. Johnson was also named to the All-Missouri Valley First Team earlier this week. Now, Johnson and the Bison must turn their attention to Montana State, who will be the first test in a long line on the road to Frisco.
The Bison front five features Johnson as well as seniors Tanner Volson, Luke Bacon and Colin Conner and sophomore Dillon Radunz. “It’s awesome. We try to have as much fun as we can on the o-line. We don’t get a lot of recognition, but when we do, it’s awesome to see,” Johnson said. “We think of it as having as much fun as we can, trying to embrace the moment.”
While the offensive line continues to have fun, blocking for possible NFL prospects like Easton Stick or Bruce Anderson, they know what the goal is. It may seem easy to look to Frisco and get caught up in what could happen on January 5. North Dakota State has proven on a consistent basis that they will not look ahead. They treat each opponent as if it were the national championship game. “It’s literally about the culture of the team and going 1-0 every week. A huge thing we talk about is hoping to get better every week, and that’s a huge thing we work on,” Johnson said. “Just to go 1-0 each week and see what we can do to get better that week.”
Much of that mindset is not a product of head coach Chris Klieman, but the 24 seniors on this team. While Johnson is technically a veteran on this team, he does not have the experience that the rest of the offensive line possesses. Johnson consistently looks to the seniors, as does the rest of the team, in keeping their focus on a week-to-week basis. “I think that it’s better for us to have a lot of seniors; there is a lot more leadership. The captains are great, but there are a lot more captains than just those four or five,” he said. “Don’t take that for granted and those guys in the senior class do everything right and they’re leaders.”
Taking 24 seniors for granted may seem easy to do. However, the rest of the Bison football team feels the impact this 2018 class has. They are the pulse of the team, and when adversity hits, they do not become rattled. In turn, neither does the rest of the team. So when they do fall down by 14 at Northern Iowa or are in a battle with Youngstown State, they stay composed. That is why this year’s Bison team is poised for a deep run.
Yes, North Dakota State has some incredible football players. It is also true that the Bison coaches are tremendous in their preparation week to week. In the end, the coaches are not the ones making the plays, the players are. Without an ironclad mindset, no team can survive when it is a win or go home situation.
Luckily, the Bison football team has that: a mindset that has been proven to work. In fact, it’s worked six times. It may turn out that it works out again on January 5. If so, this remarkable string of success begins to go beyond a dynasty. It starts to reach iconic and unprecedented levels that no college football program has seen before.
If it comes to fruition, it will become the definition of dominance. It will be 15-0, perfection and another NCAA Division I FCS National Championship.