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Carlton Littlejohn’s Journal of a Champion

Preface

I am Carlton Littlejohn, communications student and a fifth-year senior linebacker at North Dakota State University. I have had many great experiences and created lots of great friendships, but now it is all coming to an end. I have one week left of being a student athlete, so I wanted to share my last week with everyone who isn’t here to experience it. 

 

By Carlton Littlejohn

Photo by Darren Gibbins - Director of Athletic Performance Jim Kramer loves getting us fired up before football games, especially when we are playing for a championship.

Photo by Darren Gibbins – Director of Athletic Performance Jim Kramer loves getting us fired up before football games, especially when we are playing for a championship.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Today is the first day of the last week of my college career. I am starting my day off with a lift, but this isn’t just any lift; it’s my last lift with the infamous Jim Kramer. Coach Kramer is the football team’s strength and conditioning coach and has been the backbone of this team. Without him and his staff this team would not be the same. I remember my first lift with him; I had never been so intimidated. Coach Kramer yelled the entire time. I thought to myself, “This man is crazy.” We have had our ups and downs over the past five years, but now I have so much respect for him and everything he does for this program. He is the true definition of Bison Pride.

After a solid lift, practice and dinner at the Residence Dining Center, my night got busy. My roommates and I were cleaning out our apartment because we will have to move out soon after the championship game. I have lived with Kyle Emanuel and Adam Keller for the past four years. These guys have made college quite an experience for me. We consider ourselves a family within the Bison football family. It’s hard to believe guys from totally different backgrounds and cultures can come together like we did and build a friendship like we have. They have been my best friends throughout college, so it is sad to think our time living together is coming to an end. Even though we are going down different paths, I know we will continue to remain the best of friends.

So much blood, sweat and tears have been shed on this field (mostly tears of joy).

“So much blood, sweat and tears have been shed on this field (mostly tears of joy).”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Yesterday I had my last lift, today I have my last practice in the FargoDome. So much blood, sweat and tears have been shed on this field (mostly tears of joy). Not many people get to see the intense practices that we go through that leads up to the games. What makes NDSU great is we take practice seriously, not just the guys who play, but the scout guys also. There are so many hardworking and unselfish people to come through NDSU. Everyone knows the names such as Marcus Williams, Brock Jensen and Carson Wentz. Many people don’t know the names such as Alex Yaggie, Tyler Gefroh or Daniel Polanski. These are the players who have been around the program and worked just as hard as, or even harder than, the guys who get all of the exposure. Without our scout team, athletic training staff and the equipment staff, Bison football would be like any other program in the nation. Everyone plays a critical role and each of them accepts their role with pride and integrity. 

(left) Travis beck, (right) Grant Olson and me wait for the defensive play call during my first start in the 2012 FCS Championship against Sam Houston State.

(left) Travis beck, (right) Grant Olson and me wait for the defensive play call during my first start in the 2012 FCS Championship against Sam Houston State.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It is finally time to travel to Frisco, Texas. I boarded the plane that morning for the fourth time in my life, and each time has been so different for me. Each year I said I would finally relax and enjoy myself, but this year I actually mean it. I don’t plan on being as uptight. I will be relaxed and act like I have been here before, which is easier said than done. I don’t know what got into Texas, but the weather felt very similar to Fargo. It was about 30 degrees with 25 mph wind, so I guess calling Frisco “Fargo South” makes a lot of sense this year.

Getting to the hotel is always a treat because the staff welcomes us with warm arms and treats us like family. The first day is usually very relaxed. The coaches give us some free time to get acclimated, so naturally I decided to lay in bed and take advantage of the HBO movie channel. That is considered a crazy night in Frisco for me.

Post-Miracle League photo with all of our new friends. I'm the one in the zebra stripes.

Photo Courtesy of @NDSUfootball – Post-Miracle League photo with all of our new friends. I’m the one in the zebra stripes.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Today is usually the most exciting day while in Frisco. The first reason is we get to do our community service event. Both of the teams playing for the championship get together at an athletic complex and help special needs children play a friendly football game. It’s so fun because we get to interact with the children and help them compete and have fun. This year, I was lucky enough to be one of the referees of the football game, so I had to be fair. I’m not going to lie, I was still pretty happy to see the Bison beat the Redbirds in the football game, though.

Later in the day, both teams get back together for a gaming night. It’s called the “BBQ Bowl.” It is where we eat lots of BBQ, play lots of arcade games and go bowling. We had a few friendly competitions that included a eating contest, bowling competition, billiards and a game where people had to avoid being knocked off their spot by a spinning machine. NDSU lost at every competition, but we still had tons of fun.

Friday Final copy

“It is great to know we have great people who come through NDSU and who come back to support the program.”

Friday, January 9, 2015

One of the more sentimental days of the week is today. We have an open practice and allow former players to come on the field and we talk about Bison Pride. This football team is a family, and it means so much to every person who is playing or has played in the past. Each year more players attend the practice and I get the opportunity to meet many people I have heard so much about while being in Fargo. I had conversations with Chad Stark, Joe Mays and Craig Dahl.

Meeting Joe Mays was one of the most memorable experiences I have had since attending NDSU. He is practically a legend in the locker room and I am honored to finally get the opportunity to meet him. It was refreshing to know he is just a regular person. We had a normal conversation about football and our experiences at NDSU. It is great to know we have great people who come through NDSU and who come back to support the program. I play for those people because they are the ones who care the most.

Photo by Darren Gibbins - "Trying to summarize what happened during the game wouldn’t do it any justice. That was the most extraordinary game I have ever played in."

Photo by Darren Gibbins – “Trying to summarize what happened during the game wouldn’t do it any justice. That was the most extraordinary game I have ever played in.”

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Trying to summarize what happened during the game wouldn’t do it any justice. That was the most extraordinary game I have ever played in. This game tops Sam Houston State (2011), Georgia Southern (2012) and even last year against Kansas State. I have been a part of many epic games, but none of this magnitude. This game was different because it was a national championship to solidify our place in history. It gave some of these new coaches their first championship and my last college football game.

My emotions were running wild that game. The last two minutes were the most stressful. I went from thinking I would win a game, to trailing, to winning a championship. At the end of the game, I felt like the happiest man alive, but at the same time I realized it was all over for me. I was officially done being a student athlete for NDSU.

I can honestly say I have had the best time of my life playing football here. I met some of my best friends, was coached by the best coaches, played in front of the best fans and played on the best football team. 

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Carlton for giving us access inside the mind of a champion during the senior’s special and undoubtedly memorable week. Carlton’s Bison football career may be over, but he’s not going anywhere. He is currently pursuing his journalism degree and you can check out more of his work here

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Published eight times a year, Bison Illustrated provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Bison community in order to help promote the university’s players, coaches, alumni, supporters, staff and fans.

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