Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Nine-man football is a staple in communities around the state of North Dakota. For several nine-man teams in the state, they are forced to combine multiple towns together to cobble together a roster.
Cordell Volson, a redshirt sophomore offensive tackle for North Dakota State, is a nine-man product. So was his brother Tanner, who recently completed his football career in Fargo as the top center in FCS. The Volson family hails from Balfour, North Dakota, a town of just 26 people. Therefore, to play high school football, Cordell had to attend school in nearby Drake, North Dakota. Drake High School combines the towns of Balfour, Anamoose and Drake. Together, those three towns have a population of 528 people.
Coming from such a small area in the state, Volson prides himself in playing for his community. He feels the values instilled in him there have guided him to North Dakota State. Because of that, he suits up each game for his community. “A big thing for me is just hard work. Coming from a small town and a blue-collar background, you work for everything. It’s something my parents instilled in me and I mean, it’s gotten me this far, so I’m pretty thankful for that,” Volson said of the values he learned growing up in Balfour. “Another thing for me is when I played, I cared a lot about my town and my community and that was something I played for. Some people just play to get a scholarship or make all-state or whatever, but for me, it was always to try and take my town and community one more step to something they’ve never experienced. They’re paying great dividends here.”
It has paid dividends indeed, Volson redshirted his first season in Fargo in 2016. He then played in nine games his redshirt freshman season in 2017. This past season, he saw action in all 15 of North Dakota State’s games. Not just that, he has seen his body develop in ways he would have never intended. For those who doubted Volson and where he came from, it’s proof that gems can be found in the smallest corners of North Dakota.
“When I was a kid, a lot of kids want to play for the Vikings or the Cowboys, but I looked up to the guys playing high school football. I wanted to wear that Raider uniform and that was something I took pride in.” – Cordell Volson
“Along the way, there’s been a lot of people that tell you can’t do this or that because you’re from Drake or you play nine-man or there are 15 kids on your team or you come from a high school of 80 people,” Volson said. “A lot of people are telling you that they’re going to find kids in Texas or places that are big. I came in here at 250 pounds, it’s a developmental program and I definitely had to overcome some obstacles.”
Volson says he came to Fargo weighing 250 pounds. In three years, he has gained 61 pounds, weighing in at 311 pounds on NDSU’s 2018 roster. While size is a vital key for offensive linemen, this growth for Volson is further proof of Jim Kramer’s ability to develop student-athletes in the weight room.
It’s not as if Volson wasn’t impressive coming from Drake High School, either. He played offensive and defensive line as well as tight end, fullback, linebacker, punter and kicker. The younger Volson was also named to the all-region and all-state teams twice in his prep career.
Cordell’s brother, Tanner, will go down as possibly the greatest center in school history. He won the Rimington Trophy this year, which is awarded to the best center in the FCS. We spoke with Tanner in late January, after he played his final game as a Bison. When asked how he defines the football program, Tanner verbalized it as such:
“Whatever work you put in is what you’ll get out of it in the end. The harder you work, the more likely you are to succeed.”
Cordell wholly agrees with his brother’s statement. In fact, he is living proof of that statement. He feels that hard work is one of the key qualities NDSU coaches look for when finding prospective recruits. In small-town
North Dakota, hard work is a value held in high esteem. “He hit the nail on the head there. The coaches go out and recruit the kids they think are going to fit into the system. They bring them in and the ones that want to be great, end up being great,” Volson said. “They push you every day and want you to be great, and a lot of it comes on you and how great you want to be. Do you want to be average or do you want to be great? It comes down to how hard you want to work.”
Part of becoming great for Cordell has been incredible support from his family. There is not a week that goes by where you can look into the Fargodome crowd and find a few Volson jerseys. The Volson family (and the Balfour area) is also known for their traveling ability to cheer on their sons. Cordell knows not to take that level of support for granted. “It’s pretty neat. From my parents to my little brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends from around the whole town and community, it’s pretty special to have that,” he said. “Some games there are 100 people from my town there and it’s pretty neat to see that. It’s pretty special.”
Because of that community support for him, Volson feels it necessary to reciprocate that support. The area that taught him so many lessons is still special to him. So much so, that he hopes to have left behind a legacy that inspires future football players in the area. More than anything, he takes pride in his community’s commitment to hard work, whether that be on the football field or on the farm.
“You talk about pride, the area I come from we’re all blue-collar. We all work from sun up to sun down, and we all take pride in the work we do. There’s nothing more satisfying than looking back on a hard day’s work and seeing what you’ve accomplished. Pride is something I learned at a young age,” he said. “When I was a kid, a lot of kids want to play for the Vikings or the Cowboys, but I looked up to the guys playing high school football. I wanted to wear that Raider uniform and that was something I took pride in and I hope there are kids around now that want to wear my jersey.”
There is still work to be done and progress to be made for Volson, though. With a few holes to fill on the offensive line, Volson is sure to step into a starting role in 2019. Also, with a new position coach in A.J. Blazek, Volson knows it’s pivotal he takes on a leadership role as spring football approaches.
“It’s huge, I want to step up and do whatever I can to keep the rams moving forward. The rams are something pretty special, playing for your brother. It’s just another thing that becomes a part of your journey in life and something you don’t want to let down. Coach Riley would always talk to me last year about being a leader and leading those guys. He wanted me to lead as a redshirt sophomore, my third year here, and there are guys like my brother and Luke Bacon who grew up just down the road,” he said. “Having a coach want to lead guys like that, guys who I looked up to, it’s special. I’m looking forward to this year, though; there’s going to be some challenges. Learning the new ways Coach Blazek is going to coach us and losing a bunch of seniors, but I think it’ll be fun and the challenge will be fun. I know that all of us in that o-line room are going to be ready to go.”
While he will face challenges on the field, Cordell Volson knows he will have the full support of everyone back home. If he continues to suit up for his community and embody its values, he will no doubt succeed. As he said, it’s worked for him so far. It’s hard to deny the benefits that come from Cordell Volson’s good, old-fashioned Balfour work ethic.
Position: Offensive Tackle
Hometown: Balfour, North Dakota
High School: Drake High School
High School Enrollment: 90 students