Photo by Joe Kerlin
Feature photo of Tre Dempsey (left) and former Bison Michael Sheppard celebrate after the game.
Tre Dempsey couldn’t believe it when he heard Craig Bohl was leaving the NDSU football program after the 2013 season. He was more confused than anything when the captains and seniors on the team agreed to allow Bohl to coach the rest of the playoff run.
The 165-pound Lakeland, Florida, cornerback was in the thick of NDSU’s storied redshirt program, which has become a staple for the development of Bison football players. Dempsey was the only true cornerback brought in from the 2013 recruiting class. Now, he wasn’t sure who was going to coach him during his next four years of eligibility.
“I was just confused. I didn’t even understand the business side of it,” Dempsey said. “I just looked to the leaders.”
Among the leaders in the Wolfpack, the name given to the defensive backs on the Bison defense due to their ability survive on their own in man coverage and work together as a pack in zone defense, Dempsey studied 2013 seniors Marcus Williams, Brendin Pierre, Bryan Shepherd and AJ Van Voorhis. Dempsey saw how they supported their coach until the end and deflected the distraction of a looming coaching change.
A week later, in possibly one of the most influential decisions made by NDSU in Dempsey’s career, Director of Athletics Gene Taylor announced defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Klieman would become the next head coach.
“I was the happiest kid there,” Dempsey said about the announcement. “That was my old position coach. The defensive back coach, who I knew the best, was about to take the job. Man, that was better for me than having Coach Bohl, honestly.”
In 2014, Dempsey broke out. The freshman was finally able to dress, and he played a leading role on special teams and as the third cornerback in NDSU’s nickel package. Dempsey went from cornerback to safety his sophomore season. By the time his junior season came around, Dempsey was a household name in the Bison secondary. He was leading a young secondary with two first-time starters at cornerback with Jaylaan Wimbush and Jalen Allison. He evolved from just another playmaker on defense to a leader on the team.
Dempsey ended his career with a glowing resume. He was a two- year captain, two-time AFCA All-America first team member and finished tied for second all-time on NDSU’s career interceptions list (16), one spot behind his mentor Marcus Williams.
“I have so much respect for Tre,” defensive back coach Joe Klanderman said. “To watch his development from a kind of arrogant young person to one of the best leaders this program has ever had, I can’t put it into words how much he means to me and my family. … When you go through your coaching career, at the end of it, I imagine there are a handful of guys you really remember. He’ll be one of those guys for me.”
Dempsey played in 59 games in his Bison career and leaves NDSU with his own legacy, which he said was his goal when he arrived in Fargo.
“I remember Coach Bohl saying in the last meeting that he has done all he can for the team and he doesn’t think he can take us higher than we were,” Dempsey said. “To me, it sounded like he didn’t have faith in the younger classes. Those who stuck it out, we took it higher. … We did take this program to another level and hopefully, the younger guys continue to raise it.”
How did this team approach the offseason after the loss to James Madison? Did you confront it and talk about it openly or, as a senior, did you not want to mention it because you didn’t want to go out the way they did?
Tre Dempsey: “I didn’t look at it as ‘I don’t want to go out like they did.’ I looked at it as I want to play James Madison again so I can go out beating them. Beat them for the people that I came in with like Pierre Gee-Tucker, MJ Stumpf, Brad Ambrosius. I didn’t come in with their exact class, but we all were together and real close, so I felt like we were getting revenge for our brothers, too. King (Frazier) came up to me after the game and he was like ‘Man, I am so happy you beat them, bro. It’s been a year’s worth in the making.’ That shows how we went into the offseason, just pissed off, ready for anything anybody threw at us and not failing this year. That was the mindset from the jump.”
What’s the mindset in the second half when JMU is mounting the comeback and your offense is struggling to move the ball?
Dempsey: “Every time we get up, even by three points, we say, ‘They don’t score, they don’t win.’ It didn’t matter. I felt like the offense gave us way more of an advantage than we thought they would because we didn’t know how good their defense was, but we had a pretty solid D, and they came in and our offense put us up early. I really feel like we could have put them away if the defense would have stepped up coming out for the second half. I felt like we lacked a little bit of energy and they took advantage of that. Our offense set us up to win that game early, and we said if they don’t score, they don’t win, and that’s what happened. Our offense didn’t have to do anything else.”
The last defensive play — you guys were in a base defense and not really ready for a Hail Mary situation. Can you walk me through your adjustment as that play develops?
Dempsey: “I was one of the last resorts, and I was in the back of the end zone, and I seen somebody run open ahead of me. So I looked to the quarterback and I saw him scrambling with Jabril (Cox) chasing him, so I was just going to stay here and see what happens because I know Brillo (Cox) can close somebody down really fast. When he threw it up in the air, I thought immediately, ‘Okay, I’m going to pick this off because it’s in my zone.’ Then I saw how high he threw it and was like, ‘Oh, this is for the game.’ Everybody just jumped, and we had some people positioned for a deflection and that type of stuff. We practice those type of situations, but we don’t practice it out of base coverages. But we knew who had what roles, and I think we did a good job on that play.”
Was that the best-missed interception you ever had?
Dempsey: “Yeah, I celebrated like somebody picked it off. We had the ball and that’s all that mattered. It was better that we didn’t pick it off because we took that knee and the game was over.”
What hits you when Easton slides down with the ball raised in the air and clock reads 0:00?
Dempsey: “Time slows down. It was like slow motion, and then when it started going fast again like 10 people were around me jumping at the same time.”
What scene in Frisco is an accurate portrayal of Bison Pride?
Dempsey: “Definitely when all the old players come back and after that practice, and you have all the old players talking to the current guys. People meeting new people. 20-year-old kids meeting 70-year-old men that used to play here and still come back, drove all the way down by themselves to support the team, telling those stories. You just look around and you have a whole bunch of leaders, in one spot at one time, and it’s crazy. They’re all in different points of life and that’s really what I saw when I looked around, a whole bunch of leaders and grown men that grew from this Bison program.”
So what’s the plan with you training in Dallas?
Dempsey: “Yeah I’m going to be here until that Monday in March, the last week in March, and then I’m leaving four days before pro day, which is Thursday, so I’m leaving that week, go back to Fargo, and I’m going to run a 4.3, that’s my goal. I’m going to get it.”
How much time do you have to cut?
Dempsey: “I’m not sure yet. I haven’t ran the 40 in, I would say, I haven’t ran it seriously in probably three or four years, but I know I’m faster than what I used to be, way faster. I’m going to run a 4.3 and goal weight is 190.”