Photos by Hillary Ehlen and special to Bison Illustrated
After meeting on campus, Erik and Shelly Hegerle have passed on their love for Bison athletics to their children. One of which is starting her Bison volleyball career in the Fall.
When he came to NDSU in 1990, Erik Hegerle had no idea he would be leaving campus with his wife. Erik and his now wife Shelly were both NDSU athletes when they were on campus. With Shelly being a track & field athlete and Erik a football player, they saw each other frequently through various athletic circles. However, neither of them could have expected that they would be married for 22 years, have two children and be living in the city where their relationship began.
Hegerle came to NDSU as a defensive back and made an immediate impact on the Bison in 1990. He played in eight games and had seven tackles as well as one interception. That 1990 team was perhaps one of the best in the school’s history, going 14-0 en route to an NCAA Division II Championship. The following season, Hegerle led the team in total tackles with 94 and snagged two interceptions. During his junior and senior seasons, Hegerle totaled 123 tackles along with five interceptions. Though the Bison did not win another National Championship, they did go a combined 24-8 in Hegerle’s final three seasons. Hegerle’s final campaign was also the first season spent in the Fargodome.
Despite the successful career, there was something far more pressing in his life, his relationship with Shelly Steckler. She was a sprinter for the NDSU track & field team at the same time Hegerle was playing football. “I knew her from being around athletes, she was an athlete with the track and field team. During my senior year, we just kind of hung out with different groups,” he said. “I mean all of the athletes hang out together, so we were bound to run into one another, but we really took it slow. I tell the story that she pursued me, but it was actually the opposite.”
After graduation, Hegerle did have options to play football professionally but opted not to play. He ended up moving to California while Shelly moved for a job in Minneapolis. “After football, I had some minor opportunities. I had a tryout in the CFL, but I didn’t even show up. I think I was just done, tired and beat up. I had three surgeries between my junior and senior year, so the writing was kind of on the wall, even though I didn’t want to admit it,” he said. “My brother and I always talked about going and playing sand volleyball on the professional beach circuit, it’s a long story, but we ended up doing that and moving to California. A year and a half later we realized that it wasn’t going to take us anywhere. So, I moved back to Minneapolis where Shelly was working, we dated for another year and then got engaged. I realized she was the one and I wanted to get back to the Midwest and now here we are 22 years later.”
Shelly then got a job in Bismarck and Erik was quick to follow his then-fiancee. “I was just a freeloader at that point, so I followed her to Bismarck and sold insurance for a few years,” he said. It was then that a former teammate of Hegerle’s offered him a new career opportunity. “Shawn Carlson was in the pharmaceutical industry. He had met someone from the Pfizer corporation and they were looking for another salesman. So, I interviewed and two weeks later I had the job,” he said. “Now I have been in the pharmaceutical industry for 22 years.”
Though his family was living in Bismarck, Hegerle was always traveling to Fargo for his work. With two children, Hegerle had to take a look at himself in the mirror. That is when he decided to move the family back to Fargo in 2013. “I was here three nights a week, doing overnights, staying at the Courtyard in Moorhead. It seemed like they knew me more than my family did,” he said. “It was kind of a slap in the face as far as what I wanted out of life. Did I want to chase the almighty dollar or watch my kids grow up and spend time with my wife? That was really the reason behind the move five years ago.”
While he had watched the Bison from afar, Hegerle really saw the community support when he and his family moved back to Fargo. “It was a shocker though, from when I was playing till now and just the community and support,” he said. “We thought it was great then, but it’s all relative now. Our whole neighborhood on gameday has their flags out and all that and it’s really unbelievable.”
Even Hegerle saw his Bison fandom grow thanks to the atmosphere surrounding the Bison in the Red River Valley. Though he was a former player himself, he really did not foresee his team support grow the way it did when he moved to Fargo. “I think it’s inevitable. I knew of Bison pride and the community backing, which I feel is very unique,” he said. “I think of it like Green Bay with the Packers, that community pride, the support and going to the games win, lose or draw. It was way more than I expected, to be honest with you. People think that it is crazy, but there are far worse things people could be doing with their money than supporting a local college.”
Perhaps the most exciting thing for the Hegerle family is their Bison bloodlines continuing. In the fall, their daughter Kalli will set foot on campus for the NDSU volleyball team. For Erik and Shelly, the decision did not come easy for their daughter. “She wanted to define herself in a different way, I think. She grew up around NDSU and she wanted to create her own identity,” he said. Hegerle believes this is why Kalli originally committed to play at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. For a Bison family, it was extremely tough to see their daughter commit to NDSU’s perennial rival. However, Kalli later had a change of course and decided to commit to the Bison in the summer of 2016.
“She came to her senses and went to NDSU. Now she loves it and can’t wait for the season to start,” he said. “I remember her coming home from a camp and walking in the house and looking at Shelly and I and saying ‘I think I want to be a Bison’ with a big smile on her face. It was like all the pressure from other schools was lifted off of her.”
Seeing his daughter go through the process of being an NDSU athlete, Hegerle sees so many differences from his time at NDSU. Mainly, the focus on nutrition and facilities at the school. “Just the depth and the facilities now are great. My daughter is coming home from the SHAC with a shake and nuts and we were lucky to get a Gatorade back in the day,” he said. “Or even making it to the dining center before it closed, that was our nutrition plan. I remember our pregame meal was steak and coke, so you tell me what has changed.”
Another change since Hegerle’s time with the Bison is the move to Division I competition. During his time, the football team was part of the North Central Conference in Division II. While the Bison have been wildly successful at both levels, Hegerle really could not foresee NDSU making the jump to Division I. “It wasn’t even a thought for us back then. We had players that had Division I offers, but it wasn’t even on the board,” he said. “My senior year was the first year the Dome was open so we thought we were big time bringing in 10,000 or 12,000 people to a game. We always had that thought as to if we could play with the big boys.”
On top of making the move to Division I, Hegerle shares in the sentiments of many. He is surprised at how quickly NDSU has become successful at the Division I level. However, as he thinks about it more, everyone should have seen the success coming. “It’s hard to bet against NDSU, but it wasn’t even really on the table for us at the time,” he said. “I am surprised to see them become as successful as they did so quickly. And to sustain that success is so incredibly difficult.”
Erik Hegerle came to NDSU with the dream of football grandeur. While he left the school with a National Championship and countless memories on the field, he left with far more. North Dakota State guided him to his now wife, which eventually provided him two children. One of those children will be carrying on the family’s Bison tradition by succeeding on the court and in the classroom. For Hegerle, there is no football memory that can compete with that fact.
Be sure to look for the print edition of our special Alumni issue on magazine stands or in your mailbox later this month.