Photos By Nolan P. Schmidt
Zach Kubas is one of those student-athletes that has North Dakota State in his blood. Both of his parents attended the school with his dad playing defensive line for the Bison football team. His younger brother, Jake, is a sophomore offensive lineman for NDSU currently. The youngest Kubas sibling, Abbey, just recently committed to play basketball for the Bison as well.
Wherever Zach Kubas turns he sees green and gold. Growing up in a home that was surrounded by Bison athletics, it seemed like fate for Kubas to attend NDSU. Not only that, it seemed inevitable that he would play football as his father did years before. While Kubas was a tremendous talent at Dickinson Trinity High School, earning all-conference and all-region honors, joining the North Dakota State football program was easier said than done.
It was the family Bison tradition that kept NDSU top of mind for the senior offensive guard. “We went to Bison games all the time when I was growing up from elementary school all the way through high school. Even before I started football I knew this was where I want to go to school,” Kubas said. “Luckily enough, I was able to have an opportunity to come here and play football. The way I looked at it, they had the major I wanted to go into and it was a perfect fit being not too far away from home, but far away enough. It just kind of felt like it was a perfect fit.”
That major was civil engineering and while that can be a challenging major for some, Kubas was able to transition well to college life. “I built my own sense of having to fit my schedule in with sports and stuff growing up throughout high school. Couple sports with having to balance schoolwork and everything,” he said. “A lot of the skills that I acquired in high school really helped transition to college. Being able to plan out my schedule, I kind of get in a rhythm, I just got to find a plan. Whether it’s practice, lift, free time, study time or anything, I need that plan. Getting in a rhythm and finding my schedule is really what helped me along.”
Kubas added football to that plan upon arriving at North Dakota State. However, he did it as a member of the Bison walk-on program. Despite being a walk-on, Kubas was surprised at how Bison football treated each student- athlete the exact same, regardless of recruitment status.
“Your goal is you want to get on scholarship, that’s the main goal of every walk-on. The nice thing about NDSU football is they treat every player, whether you’re the highest-rated recruit coming in or you’re some walk-on kid from a small town, you’re going to be treated the same. You’re given the same opportunity to succeed,” Kubas said of his walk-on opportunity. “The biggest thing is making the most of those opportunities that are given to you. It’s about being on top of everything when it comes to school, sports, your training, your nutrition, everything. Being on top of everything and making sure you’re in the right spot for when those opportunities come to you.”
Part of the challenge for Kubas was adjusting to the college game. Coming from a (then) AA school in Dickinson Trinity, the competition level and speed of the game were far greater. It was the fast-paced nature of college football that initially challenged the elder Kubas brother.
“All those players come in and they are best out of their high school. That was the biggest thing I was told coming out of high school. I had coaches tell me that everyone’s the best when I would get there. You can’t expect to be an All-American as soon as you get there, you got to take your baby steps. Like we always say in the program it’s about attacking the process. Eventually, the game starts to slow down for you and that comes with also learning the system,” Kubas said. “It’s just kind of a slow thing that happens. You realize how we do things in this program and that allows you to play fast. Once you get a really good understanding of what’s going on and how you do things, the game really slows down.”
Part of that “slowing down” process for Kubas came from his redshirt year in 2016. Not only was he able to fully understand how Bison football works, but he was also able to get in phenomenal physical shape. It goes without saying, but the Bison redshirt program has been one of the unsung heroes of the Bison dynasty. That developmental year is extremely vital for the future of every student-athlete.
“That redshirt year is huge. It’s tough not being able to play because that’s what you came here to do is play games. That redshirt year is invaluable and it really is coach [Jim] Kramer. You think you know how to lift coming out of high school, you get a general idea. He teaches you how to really put in the work and get the most out of the weight room. Not only that but what you eat, as well as the nutrition and everything. You always got to get your meals in at the dining center, get the food in, because you need that food to build,” Kubas said of the redshirt program. “You get to see how players handle things like professionals like how you handle a game day, how you handle a week of practice, how you handle the situations with classes, finals and everything. That redshirt year just really helps slow the game down as well. It’s huge for developing guys because it’s not easy to lift four times a week and then you got to practice. It’s tough, but you really build big chemistry that’s really huge later on in the years.”
Part of what has helped Kubas through that redshirt year and into the rest of his Bison career is his work ethic. One cannot truly comprehend the amount of work it takes to be a student-athlete let alone one that walked on to a program. For Kubas, it’s important to take each day as it comes. “I really take it day by day and I want to get better every day. You got to be tough to handle adversity because not every day is going to go your way. You’re going to have rough days, days where maybe you had a tough practice, tough game or whatever. Or maybe you didn’t do so well on a test, but you got to be able to push through those things,” Kubas said. “You’re going to get knocked down every once in a while, but whether you get up that’s what really defines people. That’s one thing that I really used when I had a tough day. Being able to get up and go in the next day and try to get better all the time is really what I’ve used.”
That adversity can take many forms for Kubas. One obstacle that the Bison offensive line group, Kubas included, has gone through is a fluid coaching situation. When Kubas originally came to NDSU, his position coach was Conor Riley. After Riley left for Kansas State, the program brought in AJ Blazek, who turned out to be a true player’s coach. Blazek departed NDSU for Vanderbilt this fall leaving running backs coach Dan Larson to handle the illustrious rams. Through all of that, Kubas believed tradition has carried the group forward.
“The rams have quite the tradition going on. No matter who the coach is, the message is always the same. We want to be the toughest, most physical group in the country. No matter who comes in, it’s always going to be the same. I think that got passed down from the generation ahead of us,” Kubas said. “It was Zack Johnson, Jack Plankers, Landon Lechler and all those guys teaching us how to do things. They taught us we got to be some tough son of a guns. You got to be able to push through things. The tradition with the Rams is kind of unmatched. It’s really a brotherhood inside the brotherhood of Bison football.”
The goal is to have that tradition carried on into the future. It’s a sentiment held by Kubas and the entire offensive line room. “The legacy you leave behind is not so much about the championships and all the wins. That is great and that plays a big part, but your big legacy is what you leave behind with those young guys,” Kubas said of passing on the tradition of Bison football. “The biggest thing is just getting to know them and teaching them stuff away from the field. That will make them comfortable around you. Once they are comfortable, then we can teach him how to play football.”
You’re going to get knocked down every once in a while, but whether you get up, that’s what really defines people. That’s one thing that I really used when I had a tough day. Being able to get up and go in the next day and try to get better all the time is really what I’ve used.
With the potential spring football season on the horizon, the senior is excited to finally get back to some normalcy on the gridiron. “We’re all excited to get going here this season and finally get a full slate of games to play instead of just one,” Kubas said. “I look forward to getting after the guys. We’ve been working at this for over a year now since Frisco to just get a full season. It’s an exciting time.”
His family heritage is what guided him to North Dakota State, but upon arrival, nothing was guaranteed for Zach Kubas. Rather than crumble in the face of adversity, Kubas used it as a stepping stone. Five years later, Kubas is now a vital leader in the Bison locker room. He got to this point by not staying down for long and moving forward with the opportunities he was given.