Photo by Bruce Crummy
I had the good fortune this month to write the senior spotlight. You can go back and check it out if you missed it in this edition of Bison Illustrated.
The assignment was simple enough. Write a few sentences about each player to be accompanied by a photo and try to sum up each player’s contribution to the program. Player after player I realized that two or three sentences just weren’t enough.
You see, North Dakota State has either won the National Championship or lost in the playoffs to the eventual champion each of the last eight seasons. They are now the number one seed in the subdivision in the ninth. This should be an unsustainable run of success. It should be, but it hasn’t been. That of course has a lot to do with the quality of head coach Chris Klieman and his staff. It’s a staff that has done a great job of staying together and a great job of recruiting. Stability is not a common thing in college athletics, much less the big money world of football.
The credit doesn’t stop with the staff. It can’t. Football is the ultimate team game and the class of 2018 were definitely team players.
It has to be kept in mind that a majority of the senior athletes in this class are in their fifth year in the program, which of course means that a number of them had the opportunity to follow the staff that recruited them to their new university, or re-open their recruitment, citing the change in staff. No one could have blamed them.
They were, after all, committing to a program that had been in Division I for less than a decade. They were also committing to a head coach in Chris Klieman that had exactly one head coaching season under his belt, a 3-7 campaign for Loras College in Iowa. Sure, the Bison had just reeled off three consecutive national championships and maybe assembled the best FCS team in history (2013), but there was reason to be skeptical.
Instead they committed. Rather, they stayed committed. Klieman, tight ends/ running backs coach Conor Riley and defensive tackles coach Nick Goeser were all that remained.
Easton Stick stayed. RJ Urzendowski stayed. Jalen Allison stayed. Lance Dunn stayed.
Not only did they stay but these players, and a lot of their classmates were thrust into action almost immediately. The 2016 team, their redshirt sophomore season, utilized about a dozen of the players from this class to reach the semifinals that year, and then used even more of them to win the national championship a season later.
The togetherness that this group showed when it remained committed to the university is the same togetherness that allowed it to walk out of the Bison helmet at the Fargodome together as a 24 athlete class. That’s an incredible achievement. Yes four players were from the following class and didn’t redshirt, but classes don’t stay together that long in numbers like that in college football. It just doesn’t happen.
Players transfer for playing time. Players transfer because they don’t get along with a position coach, or a coordinator or even the head coach. Players transfer simply because they want to be closer to home. The 2017 class had 19 seniors, the ‘16 class: just 11.
The group is well-rounded as well. Stick came in as realistically the most heralded football recruit in school history. The Bison also welcomed in outgoing walk ons Dallas Freeman, Aaron Steidl and North Dakota native Levi Jordheim. Don’t let the commitments to the program of scout team stalwarts Bryce Bennot and Ross Effertz go unnoticed, either.
This class now has a truly special opportunity. They have achieved an undefeated regular season and an elusive undefeated season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. By the time you have this in front of you North Dakota State is in the midst of yet another playoff run. If the season isn’t over (and it likely isn’t), the Bison have immortality yet in front of them.
This Bison football culture doesn’t belong to Craig Bohl, it doesn’t belong to Chris Klieman or any head coach or coaching staff that came before them. It belongs to Bison football.
Only 1982 Eastern Kentucky, 1989 Georgia Southern, 1996 Marshall and 2013 North Dakota State finished the season as undefeated national champions. It’s a hard club to break into. It also means that you’re in the conversation for the greatest FCS team of all time. If you’re going to discuss the greatest FCS team of all time I think you have to start off with those four clubs.
This Bison football culture doesn’t belong to Craig Bohl, it doesn’t belong to Chris Klieman or any head coach or coaching staff that came before them. It belongs to Bison football. That might not seem like it makes a ton of sense but it’s a collective effort. The coaches certainly helped, but the players help, the administrators help, the Team Makers help, the fans help. Everybody helps.
These 24 seniors should be applauded (again). They made sure that the standard was raised. They’ve left Bison football better than they found it.
Coach Klieman said in his press conference prior to NDSU’s game against Southern Illinois where the seniors were celebrated that “whether it’s playing in the NFL, or starting in business, or going back and working on the farm, these guys are going to be really successful.”
I can’t say I disagree.