“For the strength of the Herd is the Bison. And the strength of the Bison is the Herd.” This familiar excerpt is from the law of the prairie “The Herd” song. These 18 words can be heard outside in the tailgating lot, read on social media on game day and pretty much anywhere in Bison Nation. The meaning is simple and its application is infinite. Being a part of the Herd is like being a part of a family and no one exemplifies that more than Jim Kramer and Jason Miller.
Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
Jim Kramer – For the Love of College Sports
When director of athletic performance Jim Kramer landed in Fargo he knew the North Dakota State University athletic program was more than ready to make the jump from division II to division I athletics.
Kramer had experience working with Division I athletic departments before his arrival to NDSU during the 2003-04 athletic season. He was a graduate student at division 1-AA Appalachian State, an assistant director of player development at Georgia Tech, and was the head strength and conditioning coach at Northern Iowa.
“When I got here they had beaten Montana during the season,” Kramer said while explaining why he thought the Bison were ready to make the jump to the highest level of college athletics. “Especially when I walked in here and see Rob Hunt, Nick Zilka, Isaac Snell I was thinking – I left Northern Iowa two years ago and I know we didn’t have theses guys, these guys could’ve played at Northern Iowa.”
Kramer hasn’t always trained with college athletes. After leaving Northern Iowa to raise his kids, he got a job at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, C.O.
Working with future American Olympic athletes for two years was a unique experience for Kramer, but the continuity of the athletic program he saw at the Air Force Academy convinced him he needed to return to the college game.
The college atmosphere and the overriding “one common goal” philosophy inside university athletic departments is what Kramer missed most. Kramer would also tell you he flat-out missed working with football players.
“I’m sitting there at an Air Force game timing the 20 minutes at half time,” Kramer said. “And I’m thinking ‘Okay, I got to get back into this.’ Then the job opened up here.”
Kramer was well aware of the history in North Dakota with strength and conditioning programs. He said that NDSU and the University of North Dakota were well-known across the region because of their resources, facilities and staff. When he saw a director of athletic performance position open up at NDSU, he knew he couldn’t resist.
When Kramer arrived at NDSU, the strength and conditioning staff had three people: himself, an assistant and a graduate student were training 14 teams. Kramer said they were already ahead of Northern Iowa when it came to having the right resources.
Now the director athletic of performance believes the strength staff today is staying ahead of the curb when it comes to what level of football they play at. Kramer says, “The program from when I got here has moved up to a FBS program.”
Kramer said the staff needs to support the philosophy. And NDSU is able to do just that with six full-time positions and two interns. The hands-on approach used by every strength program has helped NDSU become one of the most successful mid-major programs in the country.
The Bison took home nine conference championships last season and Kramer says that doesn’t happen unless the student-athletes are coached in the weight room like they would be on the field of play. The diverse staff that Kramer has at his disposal, this hands-on approach becomes feasible and now he can have one or two staff members with a team at the same time.
Last winter, there was some speculation surrounding Kramer whether he would leave to Wyoming with former head football coach Craig Bohl.
When Kramer decided to stay, Colten Heagle said the football team was just as happy to see him stay as they were with defensive coordinator Chris Klieman remaining in Fargo.
“I think it shows during senior week,” said Heagle when explaining how much Kramer means to the student-athletes. “We give speeches and everybody thanks him and everybody appreciates the work he puts in and a lot of it is behind the scenes, the stuff people don’t see. And every player will thank him when they’re done here.”
Offensive lineman Landon Lechler believes every championship season the Bison have had began with the relationships Kramer and his strength and conditioning staff have with the players.
“His relationships with the players goes really unnoticed 24/7,” explains redshirt sophomore Lechler. “In the summer, he’s there for you when you need him. In the winter if you’re stuck or anything, you can give him a call and he’ll help you. He’s just a great coach to work with and I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
With more talent coming to NDSU than ever before, resources becoming readily available and the new Sanford Health Athletic Complex on the horizon, Kramer doesn’t see the success leaving any time soon.
The recent past has been kind to NDSU and with Kramer and his strength staff at the foundation of the Bison athletic program, NDSU will remain the jewel of college athletic programs for years to come.
Jason Miller – The Formula for Success
Jason Miller’s interest in athletic performance and athlete development started in college while he was playing football for Minot State. The Canadian raised Miller has been taken on quite the journey before settling back in the state he went to college in.
After earning his bachelors degree in corporate fitness and working with the Minot State athletic department as an undergrad, Miller got into graduate school at Northern Michigan University. He worked at the Olympic Education Center on-campus at NMU, in Marquette, Mich.
Miller studied and worked with athletes in various sports that many universities don’t offer. Events like short-track speed skating and Greco-Roman wrestling were both sports he helped train. He said he got to see some his athletes become strong enough in their event to make the Olympic team.
Miller also volunteered with the basketball and volleyball program at Northern Michigan. Oddly enough, the two programs at NDSU he works with the most.
But Miller made one more stop before settling in the Northern Great Plains. After receiving his exercise science master’s at Northern Michigan, Miller landed a head strength and conditioning-coaching job in California at Long Beach State in 2002.
Miller said he worked with really good baseball and volleyball players in California, but after three and a half years, he felt his time had run its course in California.
Miller’s wife, Lynn, is from Minot and both her and her husband wanted to come back to North Dakota to raise their children. “I liked where I was working but we took it as far as we could take it,” explains Miller. “And this was an opportunity to go back home to a place where we could further develop and get better. This was a school (NDSU) that was more in line with what I wanted to do. Excellence and you’re expected to win and that’s what I wanted.”
Like Jim Kramer, Miller was well aware of the history at NDSU and the resources the University had in place like the Bison Sports Arena. He joined the Bison athletic department as the assistant and associate director of NDSU’s strength and conditioning program in 2005.
Miller is credited with implementing a year-round strength and conditioning program that has given guidance to NDSU student-athletes across all sports. He outlined the eight characteristics of a successful athlete in one of his many training videos that can be watched on YouTube.
Speed, strength, agility, flexibility, balance, coordination, endurance and attitude are all apart of the foundation to building the best athletes NDSU possibly can.
NDSU Strength can be found on YouTube along with its 130 video that are shown to incoming freshmen as well as recruits. Miller said the strength and conditioning staff follows a similar approach to all its team and the video help the younger athletes prepare for what they will be getting into inside the NDSU weight room.
The videos aren’t only for athletes. When Miller created the videos he was thinking big picture. He envisions the videos to be used as a resource for other strength and conditioning staffs to understand what NDSU’s concepts are about. Miller says he wants NDSU to be a leader in the field of training.
Miller has been at NDSU for nearly ten years and says the staff’s longevity is the biggest recruiting tool he has used.
“It’s an all-encompassing program and it’s really leaving no stone unturned,” Miller said. “Our athletes know that there’s nothing that we won’t do and what I mean by that is when they walk off that court, in their last year, they’re not wondering if they could’ve done something else in term of their strength and conditioning.”
Miller says he has seen every type of athlete possible at NDSU. He’s seen so many athletes that he has developed a database of all body types so he knows what works best for different kinds of athletes and the best way to develop their bodies so they can be as successful as physically possible.
Men’s basketball players from Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman and Eric Carlson, to Taylor Braun, Lawrence Alexander and TrayVonn Wright have all trained under Miller’s guidance.
“Most of our athletes, specifically in basketball, they come in and they’re baby faced, I’m very happy,” said Miller. “I know they’re not done growing and we have huge potential for growth.”
Miller’s formulas have helped train two classes into NCAA Basketball tournament participants and thinks it’s good, concrete evidence for recruits to see the success of the strength and conditioning program he has helped build.
NDSU has two visionaries when it comes to strength and conditioning. With the guidance of Kramer and the practical methods of Miller, the NDSU program has the ability to show athletes what they can ultimately become.