In your postgame press conference after the national championship, you talked really glowingly about Quincy Patterson and Cam Miller and sort of their relationship and their “servant leadership.” How unique is it to see that sort of level of servant leadership?
I think, in this program, you see it quite often. I think, probably, in athletics in general, we probably don’t see it enough. We don’t see that servant leadership, or we don’t see enough student-athletes being concerned about the well-being of their teammates. And I think that’s what you saw right there. Everyone wants to be a star. And in college football, there’s only one quarterback and it’s a highly competitive position. We recruit only one a year. We have four tremendous young men in that room right now.
This fall, we had a competition for that quarterback spot and Quincy was playing at a high level and Cam was playing at his best level that he’s ever played at as well. And it makes you sick to have to pick a one and a two. You wish you could pick a one and one A, but it doesn’t work that way. You need to have a starter. I firmly believe that you need to have a starter. You can’t have two starters. You can’t create a situation where kids on the team don’t know what’s going on.
Quincy went seven and got banged up. And we were fortunate enough that we had a young man in Cam Miller, who’s a tremendous competitor, tremendous leader, he continued to prepare. And so behind closed doors in the dark, whatever you want to say, he kept getting better, even though he wasn’t the guy yet. He kept getting better. And then when he did get his chance, he took full advantage of it and really played well. And even when Quincy came back from his injury, you could see the relationship that those two have, the respect that those two have in sharing this position. They both know it’s about the team. It’s about the product on the field, not any individual accolade or individual success.
I’m sure you guys recruit for those types of players as well. But how do you develop that servant leadership within the program?
Well, you’re exactly right with the recruiting. Character is the number one thing we look for when we’re recruiting. We’re looking for guys that are captains and guys that hold leadership roles on their teams whether that’s in football, basketball, baseball, track and field, leadership roles within their high schools, within their churches or within their communities. That’s the first thing that we’re looking for. Both Quincy and Cam are former captains of their high school teams and were very successful quarterbacks in high school.
I think the other thing that we continually try to talk about, we try to educate our kids on, is that this isn’t an individual spotlight program. We spotlight the team here. It’s all about we, us, ours. Those are the words that we’re using to describe what we need to accomplish and how we need to move forward, that’S the task at hand. If you’re looking for me or my program, you’ve come to the wrong place. So, I think part of it is just the approach we take with our kids from day one. It’s all about the team and it’s all about putting the team in a situation to be successful.
I think how we prepare, being very detail-oriented and preparing for every situation so that our kids go into games fully confident in themselves and also fully confident in their teammates, helps build that trust and build that team cohesiveness that is so critical to being successful.
What was unique for this NDSU team as opposed to the other NDSU teams you have been a part of in the past?
They’re all unique because they all have a different makeup.
They all have a different roster, different coaches and they’ve all gone through different experiences. With this one, we had 220 practices together. And so that team cohesiveness was almost forced a little bit. I saw these kids every single day for a year, we practiced 220 times. We had 25 games. There were days we didn’t have practice or a game, but we had meetings. Our team spent as much time together as they probably did with their families this last year. And that’ll be one thing that will separate this group of young men for the rest of their lives, just the relationships that we had with each other. And I think you saw on the football field. As the year went on, as our relationships grew, we got better as a team as well. There are always growing pains but it’s fun to see a team from week one to week 15 continue to elevate their play and this team did.
Is there a championship moment from the season that stood out to you from this year?
I think there’s probably a handful. I think the fourth-down stop against UND was a moment that our defense started to believe in themselves. They started to believe that they could be one of the top defenses in the country. I think the way we won the Missouri State game–battling, having been down a little bit, but finding a way to win. I think those uncomfortable moments create growth. Sometimes you have to learn it the hard way, which we did, having a loss late in the year. But you can never let a loss beat you twice and we didn’t. That’s what I get the most excited about. We had a loss and we learned from not being ready to play right away and not playing our best. We were never going to allow that game to beat us again.
What can fans expect going forward? I saw an article on Inforum saying there might be a little bit of like toning down of practices in the spring.
Well, we’re going to practice and when we practice, we’re going to practice hard. We just might not have as many practices as we typically have in the spring. Even on those days, we take off from practice, there will still be some type of development going on. We’ll be in the weight room or running with Coach Kramer. Again, we have 220 practices under our belt and we came out of it pretty unscathed. We had one season-ending injury in the spring and one in the fall. Otherwise, we’ve got everyone kind of through this thing. I want to make sure that we go into the fall as healthy and as excited about football as we can be. We’ve had a lot of football in the year and we need to balance that with our health. That’s kind of my thought process.
Is there anything from that trip to Frisco that sticks out to you the most?
The itinerary and the logistics of the week were slightly different this year because of COVID. There were fewer NCAA functions that we had to attend. So we had more team time together on Thursday night, we rented out top golf and it was just our team, our coaches, our coaches’ families and our administrators. And the thing that I probably enjoyed the most was our coaches’ families and our coaches’ kids having a blast. Our extended football family all being there together and being able to truly appreciate it was really special. It wasn’t a rat race, we didn’t have to get from point A to point B. We had some time just to enjoy each other while we were down there.