Photos by UND Athletics and Saskatchewan Roughriders
Former North Dakota State wide receiver Ryan Smith never got the opportunity to play the University of North Dakota during his four years in Fargo. But no one in the Bison locker room understood more about the long rivalry tradition between the schools than Smith.
Smith had been an NDSU ball boy as a kid growing up in Wahpeton, N.D. He witnessed first-hand the battles that would unfold on the FargoDome carpet between his beloved Bison and their annual foe from Grand Forks.
“Honestly, I just remember it being, like, what a normal game would be at but amp it up by 10 or 12 times that,” Smith said. “You could see the fire in the players’ eyes that this game means something, even though, this is back in the NCC days.”
Smith says he was just a little kid when the two teams met on a yearly basis and he might have been exaggerating, but his hyperbolic language is evidence of how the rivalry between the two schools was instilled in him at an early age.
The second-year Saskatchewan wide receiver was one of the most verbal guys in the locker room when the subject of NDSU playing UND would arise. “I wish we would’ve played UND, but when you’re from North Dakota it’s different because you know the battles that went on and the trash talk that went on,” Smith said.
When Smith was 13 years old, NDSU started its transition to Division I, leaving behind the North Central Conference and UND. That same year, an 18-year-old freshman arrived on UND’s campus. He was a North Dakota boy, like Smith, and was undersized, but could fly like the wind.
At 5 feet 8 inches, Weston Dressler made an impact as soon as he arrived in Grand Forks. The Bismarck native was the first UND football player to receive playing time as a true freshman since Jimmy Kleinsasser. On top of that, he received first-team All-NCC honors when he led UND with 1,071 all-purpose yards.
Dressler was a breakout star in the state of North Dakota, and the young Smith started to take notice.
“I mean, growing up in North Dakota, he’s a pretty big deal,” Smith said remembering seeing Dressler as a kid. “With a similar body type, me and him, if I could have been as successful as him, I know I’m going somewhere.”[/text_output]
In four years at UND, Dressler set 19 school records in receiving and returning. He was a two-time Harlon Hill candidate as the best player in Division II (the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy). Dressler would go undrafted in 2008 but would quickly sign and make the team with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
Smith would eventually live his childhood dream of becoming a football player for the Bison and star as a true freshman in 2010, just like Dressler. He would win three FCS national championships with the Bison and play an eclectic slot receiver role for four years.
On April 18, 2014, Smith signed his first professional contract with the Roughriders. But he wouldn’t get a chance to meet the player he always strived to be until Dressler returned to Saskatchewan after being cut by the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He’s a great player,” Smith said. “I enjoy playing with him and learning from him.”
Smith says he and Dressler like to talk trash to one another during practice, which usually ends when Smith mentions his three national championship rings.
Dressler can play the head-to-head card with UND leading the series against NDSU 62-45-3. But all scores will be settled when the series resumes this September.
“My reaction was, ‘I wish I could play in the game,’” said Smith, laughing. “It’s going to be an electric atmosphere, especially because it’s going to be at the FargoDome.”
Between the smack talk with Dressler about whose school is better, Smith is devising a wager with him. If NDSU wins? “I’m thinking that he’s gotta wear an NDSU shirt for a full week at practice so we’ll see.”
The two will be playing Ottawa the day of the NDSU-UND game and won’t be able to watch it live. But once the game is over, Smith will be quick to check his phone to see if his alma mater welcomes the rivalry game back with a win.