Bison Illustrated April 2023

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L e a r n m o r e a t l i v e a t c o l l e c t i v e . c o m
T O C A M P U S ? L I V E A T C O L L E C T I V E .
Editor’s Note Team Makers The Amazing Les Thomas Pro Bison 20 10 78 20 46 Carson Wentz Trey Lance Christian Watson Cordell Volson Brayden Thomas Josh Babicz Ben Ellefson Chris Board Dillon Radunz Jabril Cox Easton Stick Derrek Tuszka Joe Haeg Darrius Shepherd Billy Turner 48 50 52 54 56 57 58 61 62 64 66 69 72 73 74 WHERE ARE THEY NOW? 24 20 78 CONTENTS COVER STORY FIND US ONLINE FEATURES RECURRING APRIL 2023 @bisonmag bisonillustrated Brock Jensen Paul Carlson Amber Garrett Emily Minnick Payton Otterdahl 24 30 34 38 42 8 BISON ILLUSTRATED APRIL 2023
Always a Bison

We often forget that an athlete’s time at NDSU is only four to six (thanks, COVID) years of their life. What follows are decades of life spent away from the athletic spotlight. However, that does not mean that the impact these postcollegiate athletes are making is not notable. Whatever their postcollege pursuits may

entail, one thing is certain—they are passing along the lessons they learned donning the green and gold to those around them. Some do this directly, through coaching the sport they once played at an extremely high level. Others do it by serving their community. And some do it by being a tremendous example


of years of maintained physical wellness. You will see examples of former Bison doing all of these things within these pages.


Bison Illustrated is a free publication distributed monthly (8 times a year). Our mission is to help promote North Dakota State University Athletics, provide a quality and fun reading experience and to improve the way of life in our community. The publication is mailed to homes across the US and has newsstand distribution throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.


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IIn April of 2022, Ryan Perreault, Assistant Athletic DirectorAthletic Communications at NDSU, forwarded me an email from Nanci Thomas who had sent in a bio for her husband Les to be considered for admission to the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame. Ryan told me that Les's baseball story, which is still being written, might be a good feature for the magazine.

I strongly agree.

Originally from Rolette, ND, Thomas is one of the most interesting people I have interviewed for this magazine.


• Pitched at NDSU in 1968 and 1969

• Claims to be the first Native American to play baseball at NDSU

• Transferred to and played baseball at UND

• Chippewa who was raised on the border of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation as the eldest of seven children

• Grew up in a house with no electricity, running water, or TV

• Worked as a Program Analyst with the Department of the Interior

• Started playing in the Men’s Senior Baseball League in 1985 and has been playing ever since, winning seven national tournaments in the process

But those are just the bullet points.


Life was simple for Les and his family growing up in Rollette, ND. Simple, but not easy. The future captain of his high school baseball, basketball, and football teams started off as a farm kid, helping his family raise cows and chickens and learning the basics of the game at 7 years old by shagging fly balls off the bat of his father, an exballplayer himself. His mother did not want him to play organized sports because he had too many chores, but that didn’t stop him once he got to high school.

Les got up every morning at 4:30 a.m. and did his chores and then caught the bus to school. He would stay after school for baseball practice and then either run five miles back to the farm or catch a ride with someone.

Eventually, he saved up enough money to buy a car, making his schedule, and trips to and from practice, a bit easier.

Brady Drake Photos provided by NDSU Athletics

The Washington Senators were the first MSBL team that Les ever played for.

Les (back row, far left) stands with the 1969 NDSU baseball team.

were never really sure if there would be any staying power for the Men’s Senior Baseball League—there were only 20 or 30 teams at the time, but word of mouth spread and it just took off. And as the guys have gotten older and older, they just keep creating these older divisions.”

In his over 35 years playing in the Men’s Senior Baseball League, Les has played for many teams at the local and national levels. He has played with exprofessionals. He has played against the likes of Roger Clemens and Ozzie Smith. And he has won championships.

“He plays in the MSBL World Series every year in Arizona,” Nanci said. “It’s one of his favorite things to do. He plays on two or three teams every time he is there.”

“I love being around the guys and I love the competition,” Les, who now plays in the 70 and over division when he is at the World Series tournament, said. “Those games are very competitive. Teams recruit and have ex-professional managers and ex-professional players. I got to the age of 50 and thought I’d be done. Then, I got to 60 and thought I’d be done, but I just keep going.”

He really does keep going, usually playing second base or shortstop these

Les played for the Nationals in 1994. This photo was taken right after the world series that year.

Les with the 2018 Stars who took first in the World Series that year.

Les with the 2017 Chicago Fire that took first at the World Series that year.

days in order to utilize his strong arm, Les hit .536 in his local league with Colorado Blues who are in the 50 and over division.


In order to keep performing in your 70s, you need to take care of yourself.

To do so, Les goes to the gym once a week, at least.

“I do a little weight training, a little running, and some basketball,” Les said. “Definitely not like I used to but you have to keep the body in shape or it starts to deteriorate pretty fast. At NDSU, these trainers had us do these exercises that I found out later in life were yoga exercises. I still do those exercises today, at least a couple of times a week. You have got to stay stretched out.”

Staying healthy is extremely important, as Les says that you don’t bounce back from injury quite the same at his age. Doing this takes balance and patience. The Colorado Blues stop playing in October and start practicing in January, but Les doesn’t start until March because he dedicates himself to an eight-week strength training program every year in preparation for the season.

“There aren’t a lot of beer bellies playing in the league we play in,” Les said. “You’ve got to keep up.”

Whether or not he is an NDSU hall of famer is not for me to decide, but Les’s accomplishments and longevity are definitely legendary.


game. And most importantly, he led the Bison to the school’s first three FCS National Championships, going back-toback-to-back to kickoff football’s greatest collegiate dynasty in history.

After graduating, Jensen signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent, but was cut during the offseason program. The following year, Jensen signed with the Ottawa Redblacks in the Canadian Football League. Jensen ended up playing two seasons with the Redblacks before retiring and becoming a financial advisor at Edward Jones.

We caught up with Jensen who is loving life with his wife Kahla and son Jace.

Where are


now? An interview with Brock Jensen

I know we did a “where are they now” story with you a couple of years back, but there are a few things I’m hoping to learn a little bit more about. The first is your decision to retire. I know you had a shoulder injury. were you just not able to physically do it anymore or were you wavering back and forth on the decision?

I would say I kind of hit a crossroads. I could have rehabbed it and could have had it not necessarily sideline me for my whole career. But I had to make a decision whether or not I wanted to do the rehab to play. At that point in time, I had started a few games for the Ottawa Redblacks and had kind of shown that I could play in that league at a high level.

Before I decided to hang it up, the team tried to trade me to Toronto, and I just kind of politely declined and said I was going to be done. I almost didn’t want to go through

Photo submitted by Brock Jensen

the process of trying to rehab, trying to get acclimated to a new city and I was newly married at the time. So, between all those factors, I just decided it was probably time. Football had been pretty good to me. We had just actually won the Grey Cup the previous year. So, to be able to kind of go out on top and go out on my own terms, and all those kinds of factors kind of played into my decision.

Would the injury have required surgery?

I think to be really effective, yes. It was one of those where I could have strengthened the muscles around the area that was injured, which was actually multiple areas where I had frayed tears in my rotator cuff. I had slightly broken my collarbone in college which completely healed. The other injury was to my AC joint which never completely healed. The other one was my labrum, another key component in your shoulder, which probably was affected a little bit by all the hits and stuff over time and all the throws and whatnot. But between all those, I kind of had the trifecta and just thought, ‘I could keep rehabbing it and keep prolonging surgery.’ But at what point do I see this road ending and when can I just be happy to move on to the next chapter?

Were you kind of tired of just hurting all the time as well?

Yeah, a little bit, moreso I was maybe a little tired and frustrated. Frustrated that my shoulder was kind of starting to wear down and wear out on me a little bit. I was a dual-threat quarterback my whole life. I could certainly still use my legs and whatnot. But in the professional leagues, CFL or NFL, you have to be able to sit back there and sling the rock. That’s how you’re going to make your money. And I just felt like in order to do that, I would need my shoulder to cooperate better than what it was doing for me. It just wasn’t happening.

Do you think you would have played the next season if you wouldn’t have been traded?

Yeah, I think I would have. I would have had a good shot at starting over in Toronto. I had been to Toronto several times, obviously, they were in our conference. That’s where we won the Grey Cup in 2016. I just didn’t really see myself being in a big city like Toronto.

Photo provided by NDSU Athletics
This iconic NDSU photo is from Jensen’s big touchdown run in the national championship game against Sam Houston State

The other interesting part of the article was when you talked about how Ryan Smith’s father started recruiting you in college to work for Edward Jones at some point. Did you really ever even think of a career outside of football much when you were in school?

I think you have to, as a very competitive athlete, kind of wire your mind to not have a plan B. You need to prepare yourself to make a plan B available, but you need to commit as

if there is no alternative. I think that propels your work ethic and commitment to the sport—to master your craft. That’s kind of how I trained and kind of how I went about it. I still joke with Randy, Ryan’s dad, to this day because as he was kind of explaining to me the opportunity with Edward Jones and that he thought I might be a good fit as a financial advisor someday, I would say, ‘Randy I’m going to be playing football for a while, I’m not worried about that.’ So I really had the mindset that that was what I was going to do and I’d figure it out once it was all over. Any high-level athlete and person kind of goes about their job that way—there’s no plan B, you’re just going to make it work.

Photo submitted by Brock Jensen
Brock and his son Jace during Halloween.

Exactly. You have to be relentless. The seperator at those high levels is those athletes who can mentally endure hardship—which is part of the journey that comes along with being a pro athlete. That profession comes with aches and pains in the body, lots of training and then going through a whole season and then offseason and continually doing that every year. Then, you also have to capitalize on opportunities when you do get into a game, which may translate to a starting position, which may translate to being a franchise guy, and so on and so forth. There are a lot of chips that need to fall into place. And you need to give yourself the best opportunity and chance to capitalize on that opportunity when it does come and there’s a lot that goes into that that people don’t really understand.

What’s that stress like as a player?

get used to. I got used to it because it was even happening in college for me—for instance, I had a pretty good backup in college, [Carson Wentz]. He was always trying to find a way on the field—that’s what competitors do. You have to show up every day. There’s a lot that goes into that, through your performance, preparing to perform well, staying healthy, and just staying mentally in it too, especially at quarterback.

Do you still watch much football?

Yeah, I do. I probably don’t follow as much as some people might think. I totally follow the Bison still. And, of course, will always follow the Bison. I count my blessings, because I was a guy that was pretty under-recruited in high school and was just looking for that one opportunity. I didn’t get a scholarship offer anywhere else besides NDSU. I’m very grateful that I got a chance to wear the green and gold. I’m forever thankful for that and forever a huge fan of the Bison. NDSU is where I met my wife. There are so many good memories there.

I have a lot of other interests and things going on these days other than just football. But it’s fun, obviously, when the fall comes around, it’s hard not to watch on Saturday and Sunday. But my life certainly does not revolve around football anymore.

Yeah, it’s high-level stress that never goes away. When you’re playing, it’s something that you

So you were building skills and obtaining knowledge so that you would have the opportunity to pivot, but essentially not creating an avenue for doubt in your mind by creating plans for another route.
Anybody who follows the professional game knows about the emergency list and in-season additions. There are constantly people trying to come take your job.

Can you tell us more about those other interests you have?

Because I was dedicated to football through high school and college, I almost didn’t have any time to kind of figure out what I liked to do. I didn’t have time to really explore hobbies and stuff. And maybe I should have done a little bit better job doing that throughout my years in high school and college and even into the pros. I found out I really like hunting. I really like fishing. I really like outdoor activities. My wife and I like hiking, snowmobiling, and four-wheeling. I like being on the lake, boating, and just spending time with friends and having good conversations. I like all the outdoor activities like downhill skiing, all that kind of stuff. It’s been fun to get a chance to do some of these other things that I maybe missed out on from age 18 to 26.

How many other options did you explore after retiring besides Edward Jones?

I’m sure you took some time to kind of decompress and think about your next move.

Basically I had June, July, and August to kind of regroup a little bit, and just kind of take some time to figure out what that next step is. Those few months in the summer allowed me to kind of get back to what it was that interested me and how I wanted to make my next career move. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to settle into something where I could be rooted in a community that’s somewhere that I

enjoyed being, and where I can have some more stability because I never had that. I was living out of a suitcase. I longed to just to be settled down. To be parked somewhere and start a family and to kind of have, maybe, for lack of a better word, some normalcy. Some normalcy that most people get after college.

Ryan’s parents, Randy and Trudi, kind of became my parents away from home a little bit because they were in Wahpeton and it was too far of a drive to go to central Wisconsin when we had breaks in college. I had a lot of good conversations with Randy about what the job as a financial advisor entails and it really aligned with the things I wanted to be able to do. I’ve always been somebody who has been goal-oriented and I like helping people. It was a pretty easy transition and I love helping people make smart financial decisions for their life and help them with their goals and I thought that transition would suit me well for the rest of my life. And it was a great decision. It really was. This is exactly what I should be doing. And I enjoy my job.

What was your financial literacy like prior to taking the job?

I was always interested in the stock market in high school and throughout college. I just liked learning about it. I liked learning what stocks, mutual funds, and investments were— those things were always interesting to me and I liked it. Those interests grew throughout college, even though I was actually an education major. I’ve always been a good saver too.

Since finishing football, Brock has come to love all things outdoors.

What was the learning curve like in transitioning to that profession?

What else do we need to know about your post-NDSU life? brock-jensen


Photos submitted by Brock Jensen

Paul Carlson is the last NDSU wrestler to win a national championship, capturing the Division II crown during his junior season in 2003.

While with the Bison, Carlson, 14th in the program's all-time wins list, was 98-37 overall and also captured a second-place finish at the 2002 national meet and a third-place finish at the 2004 national meet. His impressive resume earned him a nomination to the Division II Jim Koch Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Currently, Carlson, who has four children (Jackson, Connor, Riley, and Avery), lives in Elk River, MN and works at Plaisted Companies. We caught up with him to learn more.


How did you end up at NDSU?

I went to St. Francis High School in Minnesota, just north of the cities. I wrestled and played football there. I was a runner-up in wrestling in my junior year and I was a champion in my senior year. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I was approached by Bucky Maughan and was recruited by him. I wanted to stay local so I was either going to go to Augsburg, North Dakota State, or the University of Minnesota. I decided to go to NDSU.

What do you remember about those first days on campus and those first practices?

The practices were definitely different than what we did in high school. They were very intense. Part of why I chose NDSU was because I wanted to be a four-year wrestler there. One of my friends, actually one of my best friends, Thad Pike, was recruited there as well. And another friend of mine, Lucas Christiansen, we all actually cracked the team our true freshman year. That was a pretty good feat. They were coming off of a national championship and to make the team and make nationals was pretty neat.

It seems like most people didn’t skip their redshirt seasons back then.

That’s true. We had a kind of unique situation I knew. To be honest, I didn’t know how good I was. I knew I had a

Photo submitted by Paul Carlson

shot. I cut my tail off. I remember that. I wrestled 152 in high school, and I was still growing and Thad and I knew we both could make the team at 149 and 157 as true freshmen, which are two of the hardest weight classes to even make. And I told Thad I was a little bit lighter. So I chose to go down, and he went up.

When did you realize you could make an impact here?

When I finished above .500 my true freshman year. I had won some good matches and I knew I could hang with the big guys. I wrestled a guy from Central Oklahoma who was ranked No. 1 in the country and I only lost by one point. A couple of weeks later, we went to the regionals, and I was able to sneak in and qualify. I forget what I placed, but I got to Nationals and my first-round opponent was the same gentleman that wrestled at Central Oklahoma and he was ranked No. 1 in the country. I was beating him five to one going into the third period and he rode me out.

Next year, I took second in the country.

What was that experience like winning a national championship?

Not to be cocky, but that was when I was in my prime. I knew I was doing everything right. Physically, mentally, school-wise, I was on top of my world with everything, and I felt undefeated—like it was mine to lose. I wrestled the same guy that I wrestled in the finals the year before—he

and I wrestled three times that year, and I beat him all three times. I never thought I was going to lose.

Where did life take you after you graduated?

I came back to my hometown. My thoughts were to be a teacher and spend my life teaching and coaching. I realized in high school, that’s what I wanted to do. However, I ended up finding a job at this local landscape place and I was working as many hours as I could. I started advancing rapidly within the industry that we were in. We weren’t physically doing the landscaping, we were selling landscape material and stuff like that. But I ended up becoming a manager within six months to a year and just kept advancing and ended up changing positions at a different location. I’m still doing what I’ve been doing the year after I left college. I’m at a new place of employment closer to my work, but now I’m a general manager of an entire corporation. It has been a fun ride. I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing.

What did you like about what you’re doing here?

I tell this to my employees and to other staff members— what I do now is a lot like teaching, and I’ve always been a coach or a teacher. I still coach now. But it’s having a group of employees, 50 to 100 employees, and you have to get them to perform. It’s a lot like coaching, you’re just dealing with a different age group.

Photos provided by NDSU Athletics

What level do you coach at?

I did a stint for about five years of coaching at the varsity level as an assistant coach at my alma mater in St. Francis. And I moved with my current wife at the time to Elk River, which is a town nearby. I started coaching there. Now, I’ve been at the youth level for nine years, since my son joined. I’ve coached every year since I’ve come back. Just not as much as I used to now that I have four kids.

What do you like about the coaching?

Just giving back. When I was young, I was so gung ho—I wanted to teach all the best kids. But my outlook has changed. Not every kid is going to be a national champion. Every kid might not win a match. But if they’re in the room, and they’re practicing hard, and they’re giving it their all, that’s the stuff that I want to coach. Seeing the gradual steps is important. To me, wrestling is one of the hardest sports. You have to go out there and perform individually and if you lose, it’s just yourself losing, not a whole football team. That can be tough to swallow. For a lot of kids, even my own, it’s tough to tell them it’s not all about winning

What has your experience been like being a

That’s a game-changer. I always expected to be a dad. The hardest part hit me probably three or four years ago when I had my boys in wrestling. They’re little and they don’t care if they’re good or bad. They just want to participate. But it was really difficult for me to be a dad and a coach at the same time. My son currently doesn’t wrestle now—he

Carlson's sons, Jackson and Connor, pose in their wrestling outfits. Coaching wrestling has continued to be a big part of Paul’s life.
Photos submitted by Paul Carlson

Paul with his family.

does cross country and football and baseball—but it took me a while to understand that some of these kids aren’t going to be world-class athletes. And I had to swallow some pride with that, and learn to be a dad more than a coach. That was kind of an eye-opener for me.

What other types of activities do you guys do together?

We get to the lake as much as we can, whether it’s fishing or playing on the water. My two youngest daughters aren’t into hunting—they’re too little. But my boys and I go hunting when we can or explore the woods.

What else do you like to do in your free time for fun?

I guess when I’m alone, I’m either fishing or hunting. Work is a big part of my life, but I enjoy it. There are a lot of times when I’m not working, I’m working, if that makes sense. I have a really big family and we’ve all stayed pretty local. So I mean, there’s usually not a night off. I have eleven cousins and each one of those cousins have about two to four kids so we really like to hangout as much as we can.

After beginning her collegiate career at Otero Junior College, Amber Garrett found her way to success at North Dakota State as part of the 2005 and 2006 squads that helped establish NDSU at the Division I level during their independent era. In 2005, Garrett was named to the Division I AllIndependent second team. In 2006, Garrett was named the Division I independent Pitcher of the Year.

Now, after some time away, Garrett has found herself back to the game she loves as the Director of Operations for the University of Michigan softball team.


You went the junior college route, How did you end up at NDSU?

I’m a pretty proud native of Colorado and I went to a junior college down there. I remember being in the library in my junior college and just sending out email after email to college programs trying to gain some interest. And I saw NDSU, who at the time were the Divison II champions. So, I sent them a message just to see what would happen. But Darren Mueller ended up calling our head coach and wanted to fly down to see me. I remember him flying down and I think he took my head coach bowling. He was just trying to figure out who I was as a player and as a person. I think they also went to Wendy’s and talked about it.

I remember flying out with my mom to meet the team and get a tour of Fargo. It felt like home because I’m from a small town in Colorado—Pueblo, which is a farm town. I remember specifically when we were leaving the Fargo runway and I said, ‘Mom, this is where I’m going to go.’ That’s how the decision was made to go to Fargo. I felt like that was the right decision. I had a couple of other offers coming out of junior college, but nothing necessarily that I was really looking into. I felt like the culture was the right fit. That’s kind of the story of how I ended up in Fargo.

I’m still really good friends with a lot of the girls. We go to so many alumni events. I feel like I am a very, very proud alumni. Anytime there are softball events, football events, anytime we can get together, we will. I think that’s pretty cool.

Photo provided by NDSU Athletics

Was the experience what you thought it would be when you committed?

I think that it was. I’m very proud to say that I went to NDSU. I had a great experience with Darren, who’s still there, which should tell you something about how he is as a coach, and then playing for Jamie [Traschel], who is at Ole Miss now, was also amazing. They treated us amazingly.

We didn’t really have much to play for. We were in that transition between Division II and Division I so we were in that independent stage. We just played everyone. We didn’t have a conference, we didn’t have conference championships to play for. But I think that kind of put a chip on our shoulder. And I think we set the groundwork for where the program is now. We did win the independent championship my senior year, but that was all that we really were playing for. I’m pretty proud of the foundation we set for where the team is now.

Do you still keep up with program?

Oh, yeah, for sure. Darren texts me every now and then. I’ll text him about different things as well.

And obviously, your passion for softball hasn’t waned at all.

Yeah. It’s interesting because after graduation, you are kind of like, ‘what do I do now?’ Because all you really had

was your sport. I went back to Colorado and I coached at the junior college for a couple of seasons and then decided I should probably get a real job. I started my career very early as a recreation coordinator in Highlands Ranch. I did that for about 15 years. I thought what I was doing was what I was supposed to do. I coached here and there in high school and did some private pitching lessons, but to be honest, I kind of left softball alone for a while. I still had passion for it, but it was over, I thought.

But I’ve always wanted to be a part of a team. Now, I still kind of tear up being the Director of Operations for Michigan softball. Just being in the dugout with the girls, having that energy, being a part of something bigger than yourself—it’s pretty awesome. It just brings me so much joy to be competitive again. Being a part of a team is what I missed. It fires me up to be a part of this team right now.

What was your experience like working the “normal job”?

It was great for me just because I was coordinating youth and adult sports and special events. I was still in that sports realm. I still had a hand in all the sports. Dealing with crazy sports parents was interesting, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think for sure it was what I needed to do. And I loved it. I did it for 15 years. I was loyal to it and didn’t really think I was going to do anything else. But I’m a sports fan at heart. I can give you random knowledge about football players and where they went to college. I’m just a junkie when it comes to that. I’ll watch hours and hours of college football, pro football, any kind

Photos provided by Amber Garrett
Amber Garrett (second from right) poses with some of her former NDSU teammates at an alumni outing.

of sport. I’m mildly obsessed with the Denver Broncos. My mom and I used to go to every Broncos home game. But it was what I thought I needed to do—get a good career. And my major at NDSU was recreation management. So I was doing that. And then a couple years ago, I started to feel like I wanted a different challenge. I’ve always wanted to get my master’s degee, but it was either too expensive, or I didn’t have enough time or whatever the excuse was at the time. So, I started looking into online programs. I really wanted to do a top-tier program. And so I’m doing my Master’s right now online at the University of Florida. It’s sport management degree with a specialization in athlete development. So kind of what we talked about, how to get athletes through that transition period of being an athlete to going into the real world and how to adjust to that.

Being such a sports junkie, was softball always your favorite sport growing up?

Yes, I grew up playing softball, basketball, and golf in high school. I still love golf. I think that’s just a lifetime sport. I would encourage anyone to get into golf. But playing-wise, it was definitely softball. Except at the time, I feel like your favorite sport is whatever you’re playing. But softball had an impact on who I am today.

How long do you have left in your master’s

program and where do you see you see your career going from now?

I’m graduating in December of this year. My semester right now is about name, image, and likeness which is obviously a hot topic in college sports. I thought that it would be beneficial

to do some NIL training to see where that might take me or at least to have a better heads-up of what the landscape in college sports might look like. I think it’s interesting. I never really saw myself as wanting to climb the ladder. I’ve never wanted to be supervisor, CEO, or anything like that. I just wanted to do my best or a good job at whatever I was doing at the time. I say that, but now I’ve kind of started to shift my focus and ask, ‘what do I want to do?’ And I think now that I have boots on the ground, I’m in the trenches with the coaches, I could see myself being a sports administrator at some point, helping coaches get the resources that they need and helping them in this college landscape. I think that’s where I see myself.

What are some things that you like to do in your free time?

One of my goals is to hit every major league baseball stadium. I feel like that’s a great way to travel. I love traveling and I only have five stadiums left. I just love to travel and watch sports. I also love golfing, going to breweries, trying new restaurants, and seeing my family whenever I can.

What is your favorite memory from your time with NDSU?

Just those memories on the road, on the bus trips, hanging out. One of my teammates started crying when we were going through Virginia. because she was seeing mountains for the first time. It’s just those little things that for me and getting to know people from all over the world.

One of Amber’s favorite roles in her new job is tossing batting practice. Amber poses with the University of Michigan softball team.
Photos provided by Amber Garrett

At NDSU, Emily Minnick was one of those rare athletes that was a starter all four years on campus. During that time, Minnick became one of only 24 women in program history to record 1,000 kills in a career, earning an all-conference honorable mention as well as all-conference honors during her time with the Bison.

Now, Minnick is a successful salesperson at Apex Systems. We spoke with her about that, her days at NDSU, her current role as a coach, her battle with cancer, and more.

Where are they now?

An interview with

emily minnick

technology services business?

So I actually graduated after the volleyball season in 2016, but I didn’t walk until the spring of 2017 because that’s when a lot of my teammates were going to walk and I wanted to wait for them. Also, I started right away as a freshman and a lot of my friends redshirted. So, I stayed in Fargo through 2018 and worked at CCRI where I worked with clients with mental disabilities. I was using my degree there, but I knew that wasn’t the end game. I wanted to be in a bigger city so I moved to Minneapolis in August 2018 and started at Apex.

They like hustlers. It’s sales, so they liked that I was competitive, had a team background, and all that. It’s kind of cutthroat. But they like the team mentality too. A lot of my interview was talking about my background in athletics, which is kind of interesting. I was also doing a little bit of marketing sales through Mary Kay at the time, too, and I think that’s maybe something that they liked. I’ve been there for four and a half years now. I staff IT departments for Fortune 500 and 100 companies across the Twin Cities. My primary client is healthcare, but I have some home security clients and some FinTech clients as well that I support.

Do you like it?

Yeah, I like it. I like the company culture more than I like the actual work honestly. I hang out with a lot of my co-workers and we have a lot of different team-building activities. The whole work-hard-play-hard thing in sales definitely rings true. We like to have a good time as well. We actually just had our Christmas party and we kind of do it big. They rent out some sort of venue and it’s drinks and food and an awards show, the whole bit. Everybody gets dressed to the nines. It’s pretty fun.


I like to travel. Anytime I have some time off, I travel. I don’t have kids right now, so it’s kind of my time to do that. I have nieces and nephews and I get to give them back. So that’s nice. But I do a lot of traveling not only for coaching but also personally. I’m going to San Diego in April and then to Puerto Rico in May. That’s usually not how it happens with trips being in back-to-back months like that. But probably once a quarter I go on a trip, whether it’s domestic or out of the country. I just try to get out. My job is pretty demanding so I feel like I need that break and that reset. I went to Mexico last year and it was beautiful.

What level are you coaching at?

I’ve been coaching for five years now and I’m currently coaching at MN Select out of Maple Grove. The two big clubs out here are MN Select and Northern Lights. They kind of run the cities out here. It’s very different from my upbringing. I’m from Willmar, MN which is about two hours outside the city. Back in that time, there was no club. There was no traveling club team in my hometown. That’s actually why I would drive up to Marshall, MN because that was the closest one to me, which was an hour and fifteen minutes away from my hometown. I would drive that as a 16 and 17-year-old two or three

times a week. But now, these girls have everything at their fingertips. There are like 10 different clubs to choose from within 30 minutes of their house. It’s a different beast out here—there’s a lot of volleyball.

Do you still play the sport?

After I graduated, I played on a women’s national team with Jennifer Lopez, Chrissy Knuth, and basically all the girls that graduated the year before I came in. It’s like AAU, but for us old ladies. You don’t really practice but you go to a big tournament. It changes locations every year, but I played two different years with them. I was doing a lot of not only local tournaments to stay in shape and keep around the game, but also we were playing in those tournaments, too. We won it our first year. The next year, Lopez tore her Achilles in the Nationals championship game. We took second that year because it was in the last set of our championship match so we didn’t have a setter.

Now, during the spring season, I don’t do as many tournaments. But in the fall, when I’m not coaching, there’s a Facebook group out here that a guy put together and we do reverse fours, which is two women and two men on a women’s net. The men can only play back row and the women play front row. It’s a nice co-ed dynamic essentially. It’s pretty competitive because everybody is pretty high-caliber—some people played overseas, some people just played in college, but everybody’s high-caliber. They don’t just let anyone play in those, which is nice because I’ve also done sand leagues with work and that’s just a completely different caliber of play. You’re just

I know you really love your dog and also coach volleyball, what other things do you like to do in your free time?
Emily stands with her 15-1s team which won the Omaha President’s day classic Emily with her family.
Photos submitted by Emily Minnick

going there to bop around with a volleyball. Nobody really knows how to play the game.

Is it hard for you to play in those bop around leagues?

Yeah, it’s for sure hard. I have to go into it with a different mindset. Because it’s kind of twofold—everybody at work knows you played collegiate so they expect you to be this insane menace on the court, but it’s a team sport. So if you’re playing around people that don’t even know how to pass, set, or serve the ball, you can’t, as your one sole member, define how that game is going go. So, they give me a lot of crap for certain things. It’s all fun and games, but I prefer to play competitively, yes.

together and packing into a car and getting picked up by one of the upperclassmen who was driving us over to the BSA for a morning lift and all those little moments.

For the big moments, hitting 1000 kills was super cool. I remember that game specifically. We were in Omaha. My parents had traveled all the way down from Willmar because we knew I needed 19 kills that game to be able to supersede that. But 19 is a lot. The next game was in Oklahoma at Oral Roberts. So I just went off that game because they were all there. I didn’t want to make them drive to another place. So I had to get 19. And I think I got, I don’t know, 20 or 21 or something, but I just remember counting them down in my head. That was a good memory.

Jason Miller was a super positive mentor for all of us. He was kind of the glue that held us together. Of course, he pushed us hard in weightlifting but he was just so even-keeled, and also you earned your respect from him by pushing yourself and the respect was returned if he saw that effort, and I think that’s something that I try to emulate with my kids now. We used to say “body built by J. Mills.”

You had a bout with cervical cancer, is that correct?

Yeah, it’s even hard coaching sometimes. I tell my girls all the time, ‘I wish I could just give you the intensity that is in my brain right now because you’re an extension of me on the court. You guys are the ones on the court and you guys have to be the ones to figure this out. I can give you the tools. I can teach you the technique. But it has to come from you internally.’ So, that’s that’s hard sometimes because you can only do so much with the lineup. And then you kind of have to release the reins a little bit and let them fail, succeed, win, lose, all the things.

In college, I was very hot-headed and passionate. I just didn’t care about anything else but winning. So when we weren’t

Yeah, it was wild. I went in for a routine checkup and the results came back abnormal. I had some further testing and ended up having to get a surgery and through that surgery, they found a mass. It was unexpected being 27 years old and relatively healthy. The mass has since been removed and I’m in a surveillance phase. But yeah, that threw me off the rails a little bit at the end of last year, but so far, so good. I’ve had a clean bill of health for a little over two months now. They’re going to maintain a pretty close eye on it for probably the next five years just to make sure we’re overprotective.

Well, we talked before and it sounds like you really grinded to help pay for school so I’m sure you developed a pretty strong edge for the game.
Back in September 2022, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 cervical cancer. Since then I have undergone two surgeries and am now ‘disease free’ and in the surveillance phase. My best friends, Megan Bachmeier (left) and Leslie Rasmussen (right) also went to NDSU and have been a pivotal support system for me through my diagnosis/treatments.”
Photo submitted by Emily Minnick

time as a professional shotputter and has claimed first-place finishes at six meets. However, his most important placing so far was a third-place finish at the Olympic Trials which qualified him for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. At the Olympics, Otterdahl finished 10th.

In this interview, we spoke with him about his rehab from his hip labrum surgery, his training, coaching young athletes, and more!

Where are they now?

An interview with


How is the recovery going from

I had the surgery in September, and the rehab has been going really, really well. I’m doing full training now. There are still a few things that I’m easing back into. I still have some lack of mobility in the hip. However, for the most part, I can do everything throwing-wise.

What was the rehab process like for

I mean, it was challenging. It was challenging feeling like I was kind of falling behind a lot of the people I train with and a lot of the people I’ve competed with, like my brothers who are still training. But, I knew I had to focus on getting healthy first because last year was very difficult to train. It was quite painful on my hips. That was really taking away a lot of what I was able to do. Being able to train pain-free will be worth it in the end. And so far, it’s been great.

What is the timeline for when that recovery is supposed to be fully completed?

The doctors told me that I’ll be able to compete in May. I’ll be competition-ready, but they said that I’ll be about 90% by then. They said that I won’t be 100% healed until I’m over a year out from the surgery.

Photo provided by Tim Healy Photography

We spoke with your brother Trevor, who is still at NDSU, and he had the same surgery. is it hereditary?

Yes, they say it is hereditary. They say that you get it from your mother’s side. Our mom didn’t do college athletics, so I don’t think it ever got to the point for her where she had to get surgery, but I would bet that she does have the hip impingements that caused the surgery.

With all three of you brothers competing in the throws at a very high level, was this a family sport?

How did you get into throwing?

We kind of came from a basketball family. Both our grandpa and our uncle played in college. We started basketball at a really young age but my parents always kept us busy with sports and activities year-round. They kind of just put us in every sport that you could be in as a kid and one of the activities they put us in was track. Once we were in middle school, I learned pretty quickly that I don’t like to run. So, I took up throwing and it just kind of came naturally to me. I was winning meets in middle school, throwing the shotput and the discus. Once I got to high school, my brothers saw that I was having

success in it and they wanted to have that success too. So, they just kind of followed in my footsteps a little bit.

Was that your main thing in high school? Was it the sport you enjoyed the most?

It was my main thing because it was what I was best at, but my favorite sport in high school was actually wrestling. But I was better at track & field and I knew I could go further in it, so I stuck with it.

How often are you competing now as a post-collegiate athlete?

I think I do about somewhere around 15 meets a year as a pro. This year, I had to take off all of the indoor season because of surgery, but I’ll only be a little bit late to start the outdoor season. It usually starts at the beginning of April. And I know my doctors told me May was when I could return to competition, but I think I’m pretty ahead of schedule here. I’m hoping to open up with the Drake Relays. NDSU is usually there and Nebraska will be there, it’s close to home and a lot of our family will be there. So, I really want to make that my opener.

Otterdahl competing for NDSU in 2018.
Photo by Nate Barrett

What has life been like living in Lincoln?

It’s not too different from Fargo. It’s a similar-sized town. It’s kind of isolated and surrounded by rural communities just like Fargo is. I’d say the biggest difference that I’ve noticed is it’s just much warmer here. We still get all four seasons down here, but when you guys get negative temperatures, we’re in the 20s, sometimes higher. It has been great not having to live in the tundra of Fargo.

Do you have any sort of side job?

I coach high school and middle school kids. I work with kids from all over. We had a camp recently where kids were coming from just outside of Kansas City which is about a three-hour drive. I do some private lessons as well and I have kids coming from all over Nebraska, some driving two hours twice a week.

Do you see yourself mainly coaching once you retire from your professional career?

Yeah, I can see myself doing that. My girlfriend, Maddy Nilles, was also an NDSU alumna and thrower and she’s the current Throws Coach at the University of Nebraska. She will be coaching university athletes and I think that’ll be her main career. So, I’d like to focus more on the high school and younger ages since there aren’t many towns that have two universities that we can both coach at.

What are you spending your time doing when you’re not training?

When the weather’s good, and there’s no snow on the ground, we like to frisbee golf and sometimes play regular golf too, but I’m terrible at it. So, I prefer the Frisbee kind.

One thing that’s kind of unique about me is that I have a ton of pets—probably more than anyone you’ve ever met. I have seven snakes, four geckos, a lizard, a frog, and a dog. That’s usually what I’m doing in my free time at home. It relaxes me. I like building their enclosures and making them look really good. That’s what I’m into.

Is that something that you’ve picked up since graduation?

No, that’s something I’ve been into my whole life. Now, I just have money for it. When I was a kid, I would go and catch anything I could outside. Now I don’t catch things from the wild anymore, I just buy them at pet stores.

What did you have while you were in college?

I had a couple of geckos and, in my senior year, I had two snakes.

Do you have a favorite pet?

My dog. I know it’s funny that I have all those, but my dog is the only one that I let sleep in bed with me. My American bully, “Dooby” gets most of my attention.


Otterdahl is one of seven former Bison to have competed on the Olympic stage. The others are:

• Brad Rheingans (1976, Montreal, Greco-Roman heavyweight, USA)

• John Morgan (1988, Seoul, Greco-Roman middleweight, USA)

• Janet Cobbs (1992, Barcelona, volleyball, USA)

• Tamara Brudy (1996, Atlanta, 4x400m relay, Saint Kitts and Nevis)

• Amanda Smock (2012, London, triple jump, USA)

• Erin Teschuk (2016, Rio, 3000m steeplechase, Canada)

Has it been pretty rewarding?

Yeah, it’s fun. Seeing the kids when they throw a personal best, they get so happy and I know all about that feeling. It’s just great to see. That’s what’s nice about track & field —there aren’t limits to how high they can take it. The tape measure is basically endless. As long as they can keep improving, they can keep getting moments like that.

Payton Otterdahl and his girlfriend Maddy Nilles, the current Throws Coach at the University of Nebraska, strike a pose for Bison Illustrated in 2020.
Photo by Hillary Ehlen

Well, my coach programs my strength training and then I just follow it. I don’t really have like a team, necessarily. USA Track & Field has nutritionists and sports psychologists available that I’ve talked to before. As far as locally, I have my coach and my training partners and then I do go to a chiropractor pretty regularly. It’s not very big, but we get the job done.

What do you do for active recovery? Do you do yoga or anything like that?

I do yoga occasionally. I take Wednesdays and weekends off from training. I don’t train those days, but I do go out and do something active. I don’t like to just lay around all day. That will make me feel pretty sluggish. I like to go out and get the sweat going a little bit. I’ll do yoga, take my dog for a walk or go and play with him. I also like playing frisbee golf. Basically, I do things that get me moving but won’t tire me out.

What does a regular week of training look like for you?

We train pretty late in the day. We usually train at about 3 p.m. That’s kind of late. So, by the time training starts, you’ve got two to three meals in

and warm up. Once, we are warmed up, we train—we throw first and then lift after. By the time that’s done, we’re getting home at around 7:15 p.m., eating another two times before the end of the day and relaxing. I go to bed pretty late, usually around midnight or 1 a.m. Then, it’s the same thing the next day.

Do you have any other personal plans in the works? Any trips or anything like that?

It’s a little early to tell. My offseason is so short. In a regular season, I’m done competing sometime in September. Then my offseason is whatever is left of September through October. By November, I’m training again. When I’m not rehabbing, I usually have a month and a half off in a year. When I’m training, I don’t like to travel too much. In March, I’m going to go train in Arkansas with the current shotput world record holder, Ryan Crouser. He and I are good friends. I’ll be going down there for a week to train with him and pick his brain. He’s really big into fishing, as am I being from

fishing down there as well.

I do like to travel when I have the time though. I usually go on vacation with my girlfriend. I have some high school friends that I’m still close with as well. My family has two cabins in northern Minnesota and those are usually my go-to spots. But now that I live in Nebraska, we’re relatively close to Denver. It’s only a seven-hour drive. We’ll go to Denver at least once a year and do some hiking in the surrounding mountains. We like to go to national parks if we can.

Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you’d like to say to the readers of Bison Illustrated?

I just want to thank Bison Nation for keeping up with me. You know, I miss Fargo. I miss the people of Fargo more than anything—I don’t miss the cold. I do miss the people in the town and want to thank them for their continued support.

Photo provided by Tim Healy Photography


orth Dakota State is no secret anymore. The little old town of Fargo, ND has become a hub for finding NFL talent. This past season, 15 former Bison found themselves either on active NFL rosters or practice squads. Let's take a look at a few former NDSU players making waves at the game's highest level.



QB (2011-2015)

Career NDSU Statistics

Completions: 392-612

Completion Percentage: 64.1

Passing Yards: 5,115

Passing Touchdowns: 45 Interceptions: 14

Rushing Attempts: 216 Rushing Yards: 1,028 Yards Per Carry: 4.8

Rushing Touchdowns: 13

2022 Stats

Games Played: 8

Games Started: 7 W-L: 2-5

Completions: 172-276

Completion Percentage: 62.3

Passing Yards: 1,755

Passing Touchdowns: 11 Interceptions: 9


Rushing Attempts: 22

Rushing Yards: 86

Yards Per Carry: 3.9

Rushing Touchdowns: 1

Career NFL Stats

1st Round/2nd Overall (2016)


At North Dakota State, Carson Wentz had to wait in the wings until exploding onto the scene in his junior season, setting the NDSU single-season records for passing attempts, completions, yards, and total offense per game. Wentz, in typical NDSU fashion, left a champion, winning the 2014 and 2015 national championships before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles second overall.

Wentz played five seasons in the city of brotherly love, performing at an MVP level before getting injured in Philly’s 2017 Super Bowl season. In 2021, the Bismarck native moved on to the Indianapolis Colts for one season before playing this past season with the Washington Commanders. Wentz is now a free agent and is currently looking for a new home.

Carson Wentz's NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2016 Senior Bowl Invitee

• 2015 and 2016 NCAA Division I Championship Game Most Outstanding Player

• 2014 College Sporting News Fab 50 All-America

• 2014 College Sporting News Playoff MVP

• 2015 NCAA Elite 90 Award

• 2013 and 2014 Elite 89 Award

• 2015 CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year

• 2014 and 2015 CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team

• 2014 and 2015 CoSIDA Academic All-District

• 2014 and 2015 MCFC All-Academic First Team

• 2015 MVFC President's Council Academic Award

• 3x MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence

Award Winner

• 5x MVFC Honor Roll

• 2016 National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society

• 5x FCS National Champion

Games Played: 93

Games Started: 92

W-L: 46-45-1

Completions: 2056-3284

Completion Percentage: 62.6

Passing Yards: 22,129

Passing Touchdowns: 151

Interceptions: 66

Rushing Attempts: 337

Rushing Yards: 1,362

Yards Per Carry: 4

Rushing Touchdowns: 10

Pro Bison

Career NDSU Statistics

Completions: 208-318

Completion Percentage: 65.4

Passing Yards: 2,974

Passing Touchdowns: 30

Interceptions: 1

Rushing Attempts: 192

Rushing Yards: 1,325 Yards Per Carry: 6.9

Rushing Touchdowns: 18

2022 Stats

Games Played: 2

Games Started: 2

W-L: 1-1

Completions: 15-31

Completion Percentage: 48.4

Passing Yards: 194

Passing Touchdowns: 0

Interceptions: 1


Rushing Attempts: 16

Rushing Yards: 67

Yards Per Carry: 4.2

Rushing Touchdowns: 0

Career NFL Stats


At North Dakota State, Trey Lance was a freshman sensation, winning the Walter Payton Award as a redshirt freshman in 2019, leading the Bison to become the first team to become the first 16-0 team in college football since 1894.

Lance went on to be drafted third overall by the San Fransisco 49ers in the 2021 NFL Draft. In his first season with the 49ers, Lance spent the majority of the time in the backup role. The Marshall, MN native was set to take the starting reins heading into year two, but had an ankle injury that would require surgery early in the second game of the season. Now, entering year three, Lance is set to battle for the starting gig with 2022 rookie sensation Brock Purdy

Trey Lance’s NDSU Athletic


• 2021 NFL Combine Invitee

• 2020 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game Most Outstanding Player

• 2019 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award Winner

• 2019 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Winner

• 2019 CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year

• 2019 FCS ADA Offensive Player of the Year

• 2019 Phil Steele FCS Offensive Player of the Year

• 2019 STATS FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 HERO Sports FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Athlon Sports FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Phil Steele FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 FCS ADA All-America First Team

• 2019 Ap All-America Second Team

• 2019 AFCA AFCA All-America Second Team

• 2019 MVFC Offensive Player of the Year

• 2019 MVFC Newcomer of the Year

• 2019 MVFC Freshman of the Year

• 2019 MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award

• 2x MVFC Honor Roll

Games Played: 8

Games Started: 4 W-L: 2-2

Completions: 56-102

Completion Percentage: 54.9

Passing Yards: 797

Passing Touchdowns: 5

Interceptions: 3

Rushing Attempts: 54

Rushing Yards: 235

Yards Per Carry: 4.4

Rushing Touchdowns: 1

Pro Bison
1st Round/3rd Overall (2021)

Career NDSU Statistics

2022 Stats

Rushing Attempts: 49 Rushing Yards: 392 Rushing Touchdowns: 2 Yards Per Carry: 8 Receptions: 105 Receiving Yards: 2,140 Receiving Touchdowns: 14 Yards Per Reception: 20.4
Games Played: 14 Games Started: 11 Receptions: 41 Receiving Yards: 611 Receiving Touchdowns: 7 Yards Per Reception: 14.9 Rushing Attempts: 7 Rushing Yards: 80 Rushing Touchdowns: 2 Yards Per Carry: 11.4


One of the most electric players in program history, Christian Watson was a key contributor in three national championship runs for the Bison.

After being drafted with the second pick in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Greenbay Packers, Watson quickly established himself as one of the most explosive players in the pro game. During his rookie campaign, Watson had a four-game stretch where he matched Randy Moss for the most touchdowns by a rookie receiver over a four-game span with eight.

CHRISTIAN WATSON’s NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl Invitee

• 2021 HERO Sports All-America First Team (Wide Receiver)

• 2021 Associated Press All-America Second Team (Wide Receiver)

• 2021 Stats Perform All-America Second Team (AllPurpose)

• 2021 Phil Steele All-America Third Team (Wide Receiver)

• 2020-21 Associated Press All-America First Team (AllPurpose)

• 2020-21 Stats Perform All-America First Team (Kick Returner)

• 2020-21 HERO Sports All-America First Team (Kick Returner)

• 2020-21 Athlon Sports All-America First Team (Kick Returner)

• 2020-21 Phil Steele All-America First Team (Kick Returner)

• 2021 All-MVFC First Team (All-Purpose)

• 2x All-MVFC First Team (Wide Receiver)

• 2020-21 All-MVFC Second Team (Return Specialist)

• 2019 All-MVFC Second Team (Wide Receiver)

• 2018 MVFC Honor Roll

• 4x National Champion

2nd Round/34th Overall (2022)
Pro Bison

4th Round/136 Overall (2022)


Pro Bison


OL (2017-2021)

2022 Stats

Games Played: 16

Games Started: 16

Volson was a mainstay for the Bison, ending his career with a school-record 65 career games played and 41 consecutive starts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in his rookie season, Volson started every single game for the Bengals.

CORDELL VOLSON’S NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl Invitee

• 2020-21 and 2021 Associated Press AllAmerica First Team

• 2020-21 and 2021 Stats Perform All-America

First Team

• 2020-21 and 2021 HERO Sports All-America

First Team

• 2020-21 and 2021 Athlon Sports All-America

First Team

• 2021 AFCA All-America First Team

• 2021 Walter Camp All-America First Team

• 2021 Phil Steele All-America Second Team2020-21 FCS ADA All-America First Team

• 2020-21 Phil Steele All-America First Team

• 2020-21 Phil Steele FCS Offensive Lineman of the Year

• 2019 HERO Sports All-America Second Team

• 2019, 2020-21 and 2021 All-MVFC First Team

• 2017 MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award

• 3x MVFC Honor Roll

• 4x National Champion



Brayden Thomas took a long winding road to get to North Dakota State, starting his collegiate career with the University of Mary before transferring to another DII school, Mankato State. He starred for the Mavericks before transferring to play his final two seasons with the Bison, making enough of an impact to get a contract as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Rams.

Thomas spent the majority of his first pro season on the practice squad, but did make his regular season debut in 2022. Now, he is looking to build off that.

brayden thomas’ NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2022 East-West Shrine Bowl Invitee

• 2022 NFF Hampshire Honor Society

• 2021 Associated Press All-America Third Team

• 2021 Stats Perform All-America Third Team

• 2021 HERO Sports All-America Third Team

• 2021 Phil Steele All-America Fourth Team

• 2021 All-MVFC First Team

• 2020-21 MVFC All-Newcomer Team

• 2021 MVFC Presidents Council Academic Award

• 2021 MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award

• 2021 MVFC Honor Roll


DL (2020/2021

Career NDSU Statistics

Solo Tackles: 37

Assisted Tackles: 18

Total Tackles: 55

Tackles For Loss-Yards: 18-93

Sacks: 10.5



Undrafted (2022)
Games Played: 1 56 BISON ILLUSTRATED APRIL 2023

Undrafted (2022)


At NDSU, Josh Babicz was as good of a tight end as you could ask for, making a major impact on the run game while proving to be a valuable red zone target. After exhausting his eligibility, Babicz signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent, making their practice squad out of camp. Babicz also spent time on the Green Bay Packers practice squad during the 2022 season.

Josh babicz’S NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2022 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

• 2021 All-MVFC Second Team

• 2020-21 All-MVFC Honorable Mention

• 2018 MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award

• 2x MVFC Honor Roll

• 4x National Champion


TE (2017-2021)

Career NDSU Statistics

Receptions: 40

Receiving Yards: 633

Touchdowns: 11


Career NDSU Statistics

Receptions: 35

Receiving Yards: 463

Yards Per Catch: 13.2

Touchdowns: 16

2022 Stats

Games Played: 4

Games Started: 1

Receptions: 3

Receiving Yards: 26


Undrafted 2020


At North Dakota State, Ben Ellefson was a key contributor on three national championship teams, earning second-team All-America honors through the American Football Coaches Association. After graduating, Ellefson signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent.

Ellefson appeared in a handful of games for the Jaguars in his rookie seasons. Over the past two years, Ellefson has spent his time with the Minnesota Vikings

Ben Ellefson’s NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl Invitee

• 2020 NFF Hampshire Honor Society

• 2019 NFF William V. Campbell Trophy Semifinalist

• 2019 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team

• 2019 AFCA FCS All-America Second Team

• 2019 STATS FCS All-America Third Team

• 2019 HERO Sports FCS All-America Third Team

• 2019 Phil Steele FCS All-America Fourth Team

• 2019 All-MVFC First Team

• 2019 MVFC President’s Council Academic Award

• 2018 All-MVFC Second Team

• 2018 NCAA Elite 90 Award

• 2018 and 2019 MVFC All-Academic First Team

• 2017, 2018 and 2019 MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award

• 5x MVFC Honor Roll

• 4x National Champion

Career NFL Stats

Games Played: 16

Games Started: 5

Receptions: 4

Receiving Yards: 36

Pro Bison

Career NDSU Statistics

Solo Tackles: 59

Assisted Tackles: 65

Total Tackles: 124

Tackles For Loss-Yards: 5-10

Pass Breakups: 5

2022 Stats

Undrafted 2018

Games Played: 17

Games Started: 1

Tackles: 21

Pass Breakups: 1

At North Dakota State, Chris Board made an impact on all levels of the defense while starring on special teams for three national championship

Board was so dominant on special teams, that he earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. Ultimately, Board spent four seasons in Baltimore, MD before playing last

NFL Career Stats

Games Played: 80

Games Started: 3

Total Tackles: 115

Tackles For Loss: 3

Sacks: 2.5

Pass Breakups: 2

Pro Bison

Career NFL Stats

Games Played: 23

Games Started: 5

2nd Round/53rd Overall (2021)


At North Dakota State, Dillon Radunz was a mainstay on the offensive line, making 32 consecutive starts at left tackle to close out his career and helping the Bison win three national championships.

Through two seasons in Nashville, Radunz has mostly been used as a rotational lineman. However, he should have a greater opportunity for playing time after the offseason release of OT Taylor Lewan.

Dillon Radunz’s NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2021 NFL Combine Invitee

• 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl Invitee

• 2019 Associated Press All-America First Team

• 2019 AFCA All-America First Team

• 2019 Stats Perform All-America First Team

• 2019 HERO Sports FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 FCS Athletic Directors Association AllAmerica First Team

• 2019 Walter Camp FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Phil Steele FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Phil Steele FCS Offensive Lineman of the Year

• 2019 Athlon Sports FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 All-MVFC First Team

• 2018 HERO Sports FCS Sophomore All-America Team

• 2018 All-MVFC Second Team

• 3x National Champion

Pro Bison

Assisted Tackles: 100

Total Tackles: 258

Tackles For Loss-Yards: 32-147

Interceptions: 6

Pass Breakups: 18

Tackles: 6


4th Round/115 Overall (2021)


At North Dakota State, Jabril Cox made an instant impact in his 2016 redshirt freshman season, winning the Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year award as well as the Newcomer of the Year award. In the following season, Cox was the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year. And in his final season with the Bison, Cox was an All-American, before transferring to Louisiana State University for his senior season and eventually getting drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

Cox played a limited role in his rookie season, mostly on special teams, before ending his season with an injury.

JABRIL COX’s NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2021 NFL Combine Invitee

• 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl Invitee

• 2019 Phil Steele FCS All-America Second Team

• 2019 Associated Press All-America Third Team

• 2019 MVFC Honor Roll

• 2018 STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award Finalist (4th)

• 2018 and 2019 HERO Sports FCS All-America First Team

• 2018 Phil Steele FCS All-America First Team

• 2018 AFCA All-America Second Team

• 2018 and 2019 STATS FCS All-America Second Team

• 2018 Associated Press All-America Second Team

• 2018 HERO Sports FCS Sophomore All-American

• 2018 MVFC Defensive Player of the Year

• 2018 and 2019 All-MVFC First Team

• 2017 HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-American

• 2017 Phil Steele FCS Freshman All-America First Team

• 2017 MVFC Newcomer of the Year

• 2017 MVFC Freshman of the Year

• 2017 All-MVFC Second Team

• 2017 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Finalist (6th)

• 3x National Champion

Career NFL Statistics

Games Played: 16

Tackles: 8

Pro Bison

Career NDSU Statistics

Completions: 598-980

Completion Percentage: 61%

Passing Yards: 8,693

Passing Touchdowns: 88

Interceptions: 28

Rushing Attempts: 427

Rushing Yards: 2,523 Yards Per Carry: 5.9

Rushing Touchdowns: 41

2022 Stats

Games Played: 1

Completions: 1-1

Passing Yards: 4


5th Round/166th Overall (2019)


At North Dakota State, Easton Stick was maybe the best quarterback in program history, delivering clutch performances, a record-setting amount of wins and countless memories for NDSU fans before getting drafted to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019.

Stick has played very little in his time with the Chargers, but looks to be entering this next season as the main backup to Justin Herbert.

EASTON STICK’s NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2019 NFL Scouting Combine Invitee

• 2019 East-West Shrine Game Invitee

• 2018 AP All-America First Team

• 2018 HERO Sports All-America First Team

• 2018 Phil Steele FCS All-America First Team

• 2018 Phil Steele FCS Offensive Player of the Year

• 2018 AFCA All-America Second Team

• 2018 STATS FCS All-America Third Team

• 2018 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award Finalist (3rd)

• 2018 MVFC Offensive Player of the Year

• 2018 All-MVFC First Team

• 2018 NCAA Division I Championship Game Most Outstanding Player

• 2018 William V. Campbell Trophy Finalist

• 2018 AFCA Good Works Team

• 2018 CoSIDA Academic All-America Second Team

• 2018 CoSIDA Academic All-District

• 2017 and 2018 FCS Athletic Directors Association Academic All-Star Team

• 2017 CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year

• 2017 MVFC President’s Council Academic Award

• 2016 and 2017 All-MVFC Honorable Mention

• 2015 MVFC All-Newcomer Team

• 3x MVFC All-Academic First Team

• 3x MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award

• 4x MVFC Honor Roll

• 4x National Champion

Career NFL Statistics

Games Played: 10

Completions: 90-144

Passing Yards: 795

Passing Touchdowns: 3

Interceptions: 6

Pro Bison

Career NDSU Statistics

2022 Stats

Pro Bison
Round/254th Overall (2020) Solo Tackles: 73 Assisted Tackles: 60 Total Tackles: 133 Tackles For Loss-Yards: 42-236 Sacks: 29.5 Pass Breakups: 6
Games Played: 15 Games Started: 1 Tackles: 16

7th Round/254th Overall (2020)


At North Dakota State, Derrek Tuszka was a force, starting at defensive end for three seasons. In his final campaign with the Bison (2019), Tuszka led the team in sacks with 13.5 and won the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year while finishing fifth in voting for the STATS Buck Buchanan Award which is presented to the national defensive player of the year.

Since entering the league, Tuszka has bounced around, spending 2020 with the Denver Broncos, 2021 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and playing in one game with the Tennessee Titans in 2022 before playing in 14 for the Los Angeles Chargers.

derrek tuszka’s NDSU Athletic Accomplishments

• 2020 East-West Shrine Bowl Invitee

• 2020 NFF Hampshire Honor Society

• 2019 STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award Finalist (5th)

• 2019 STATS FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 HERO Sports FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Associated Press FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Phil Steele FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Athlon Sports FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 Walter Camp FCS All-America First Team

• 2019 AFCA All-America Second Team

• 2019 MVFC Defensive Player of the Year

• 2019 All-MVFC First Team

• 2019 MVFC All-Academic First Team

• 2019 MVFC President’s Council Academic Award

• 2018 All-MVFC Honorable Mention

• MVFC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award

• 5x MVFC Honor Roll

Career NFL Statistics

Games Played: 39

Games Started: 1

Tackles: 40

Tackles for Loss: 2

Sacks: 2 Forced Fumbles: 1

Pro Bison

Career NDSU Statistics

Games Played: 60

Games Started: 60




Games Played: 80

Games Started: 40

5th Round/155th Overall (2016)
Games Played: 1 72 BISON ILLUSTRATED APRIL 2023

Career NDSU Statistics

Receptions: 188

Receiving Yards: 2,841

Receiving Touchdowns: 20

Rushing Attempts: 31

Rushing Yards: 219

Yards Per Carry: 7.1

Rushing Touchdowns: 1

Punt Returns: 44

Punt Return Yards: 578

Average Per Return: 13.1

Punt Return Touchdowns: 1


Games Played: 14

Receptions: 6

Receiving Yards: 47

Pro Bison Undrafted (2019)
Darrius Shepherd is pictured here as a Bison because Bison Illustrated was unable to obtain a photo from the St. Louis BattleHawks

Career NDSU Statistics

Games Played: 57

Games Started: 56

2022 Stats

At North Dakota State, Billy Turner started in 56 of the 57 games he played in. He was an AllAmerican, a member of three straight national championships teams and would go on to become the highest former NDSU player drafted (at the

In the NFL, Turner has been a steady presence. After spending the majority of his first two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Turner spent half of 2016 and all of 2017 and 2018 with the Denver Broncos. Turner then signed with the Green Bay Packers, starting nearly every game for them from 2019-2021. Last season, Turner returned to the Broncos, starting again before his season ended on

FCS Athletic Directors Association

AFCA FCS All-America First Team

Sports Network FCS AllAssociated Press FCS All-

Walter Camp FCS All-America

College Sporting News FCS Fabulous

College Sports Journal FCS All-America

All-Missouri Valley Football

AllState AFCA Good Works Team

NFL Career Stats

Games Played: 8

Games Started: 7

Games Played: 91

Games Started: 75

Pro Bison 3rd Round/67th Overall (2014)


2022 recap

Team Makers, the national annual fund for athletics at North Dakota State University, produced another banner year in 2022, contributing $5.5 million to NDSU Athletics for studentathlete scholarships.

Team Makers saw cash donations total over $5.8 million. Trade for goods and services totaled

more than $469,000, in addition to more than $2 million in other revenues, with the total impact for Bison Athletics in 2022 surpassing $7.9 million dollars from 3,925 members.

Established in 1950, Team Makers is a separate 501(c)(3) foundation committed to assisting with rising scholarship costs and providing resources for NDSU student-athletes to succeed at the highest level.

Photo submitted by Team Makers
The Team Makers Board

“Team Makers continues to set the standard in supporting Bison Athletics. Its members provide life-changing opportunities through annual scholarship support as well as strategic operational and capital investments,” Matt Larsen, NDSU Director of Athletics, said. “This level of support has positioned NDSU Athletics for current and future success across all sport programs. A sincere thank you to Bison Nation for their passion and belief in our coaches and student-athletes.”

Team Makers memberships start at $100. Applications are accepted throughout the membership year from January 1 through December 31. Benefits include priority points, single-game football tickets, reserved parking, preferred seating, and social opportunities with Bison coaches and staff at special events and golf tournaments.

Members of Team Makers may also consider gifts to the Bison Pride Fund, which was established in 2015 to support scholarships and full cost of attendance as well as capital projects and overall program excellence. Gifts to the Bison

Pride Fund can be made on a one-time basis, or can be pledged over a set amount of years. Donations made to the Bison Pride Fund will affect your Team Makers giving level and recognition, making you eligible for additional benefits.

Renewals for 2023 and new donations may be made online. Visit for more information on how to contribute.