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Page 1

ITION D E IP H S N IO P SPECIAL CHAM


CONTENTS

02/2020

16

ANOTHER ONE

2019 was a season of questions for North Dakota State football. Was this program in rebuilding mode? With a new coach, a new quarterback and a host of new faces on both sides of the ball, the rest of the FCS was salivating at the thought of knocking the Bison from their perch. But what ensued in 2019? The Bison only won 16 games, something that has never been done in modern college football. That new quarterback? He just went a full season without turning the ball and was named the Walter Payton Award winner...as a redshirt freshman. Perhaps most importantly, the FCS programs that were hungry to knock the Bison out were left licking their wounds as the Bison devoured opponents en route to their eighth title in nine seasons...Not bad for a rebuild, huh?

56

60

Matt Entz

In his first season as head coach, Matt Entz only won 16 games and a national title.

Coaches reflection

Five coaches came to NDSU in the offseason and won their first national title in their first year on campus. They reflect on their first year in Fargo.

70

James Hendricks

One last conversation with the Bison safety on the heels of perhaps the biggest game of his career.

WHAT’S INSIDE 6 Editor’s Note 118 Team Makers 120 Swany Says

82

Returning Players

The Bison will be loaded again in 2020, we talk with those vital returners in NDSU’s journey for nine.

96

Matt Larsen

100

Dean Bresciani

Do titles get old for athletics director Matt Larsen?

Where does NDSU President Dean Bresciani see NDSU and its athletic programs going in the future?

FIND US ONLINE

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4

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BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

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FROM THE EDITOR

nolan@spotlightmediafargo.com

The Mentality FROM NOLAN P. SCHMIDT

I

had a grandiose vision for what I wanted this editorial to say. It was going to be a sweeping encapsulation of the 2019 North Dakota State football team. How they proved their doubters wrong, played for each other and perhaps most importantly, played with a serious chip on their shoulder all year. The end result being their eighth national title in nine seasons, a true decade of dominance. However, I deleted every word of that draft following a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles on January 26. The crash took the lives of nine people including basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. It jarred not only the sporting world but the world in general and left many, myself included, reflecting and mourning this horrible tragedy. Many of you know, basketball is my favorite sport, it helped form me into who I am today. Being 26, I grew up watching Kobe Bryant play basketball and I saw the impact he had on the game. For those of us born in the early to mid-90s, Kobe was a Michael Jordan-esque figure. We might have been too young to truly appreciate Jordan and his Bulls teams, but once Jordan retired in 1998, we had found our heir apparent. It was Kobe. Those

6

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

Los Angeles Lakers teams that won championships in 2000, 2001 and 2002 defined basketball for my generation. Bryant bridged the gap between the Jordan era and the LeBron James era. Yet, Kobe more than bridged that gap, he created his own era in the process. The Bryant era concluded with 33,643 career points (fourth all-time), five NBA titles, an MVP and countless other accolades. Not only that, Kobe paved the way for basketball players to come and influenced countless players. Many of those players influenced by Kobe can be found on NBA and collegiate rosters, North Dakota State's included. But Kobe's footprint goes beyond just basketball. He had a tremendous influence on athletes across all corners of athletics and beyond. So how did one man, who played one sport for one team have such a sweeping legacy across our society? It's simple: Mentality. Kobe's mindset when he was playing (and after he retired) is what will forever define him and those lives he touched. Now known as the "Mamba Mentality", Kobe's obsession with greatness drove him to work harder than any athlete we have ever seen. It also cultivated a competitive spirit that truly

bears no comparison. "If you got to get up every single morning and remind yourself how hard you need to work, you probably need to choose a different profession. That shouldn't be there, I wake up in the morning excited to get to it," Bryant once said. "If I'm not training, I'm missing it. If I'm not watching the game of basketball, I miss it. There is no place I'd rather be. If you have that feeling, you are truly doing what God has put you on this Earth to do." It is that mindset, the commitment to hard work and an appreciation for his craft that made Kobe Bryant a master. Forget what he did on the floor for a moment and realize that his attitude and mentality has inspired all of us to be the best we can be. If we live by that Mamba Mentality, there is no way for us to fail. In an attempt to pull this all full circle, North Dakota State football is an embodiment of Kobe Bryant. They wake up every single morning ready to get to it. The Bison strive to improve each day and if they don't improve, an opponent is. In the face of tremendous doubt, what did the Bison do in 2019? They refused to fail and went a perfect 16-0 en route to another national title. That is Mamba Mentality at its finest.

Yeah, I'm just some guy who edits a magazine, but the Mamba Mentality is something I live by whether I know it or not. I am not afraid to fail because I know that true failure is impossible if I mirror the work ethic Kobe Bryant had. The Mamba Mentality is something we should all be living by regardless of if we play sports or sit at a desk and write all day. That is Kobe Bryant's ultimate gift to our world. His tremendous talents on the basketball court are what made him a legend. What he taught us about ourselves and how we should approach and attack life immortalizes him. Mamba Mentality Forever,


FEBRUARY 2020 | VOLUME 15 ISSUE 2 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.

Publisher EDITORIAL Editorial Director Editor Graphic Designer Director of Photography

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FOR ADVERTISING, CALL 701-478-SPOT (7768) or email info@spotlightmediafargo.com Bison Illustrated is published by Spotlight, LLC. Copyright 2020 Bison Illustrated & bisonillustrated.com All rights reserved. No parts of this magazine may be reproduced or distributed without written permission of Bison Illustrated. Bison Illustrated and Spotlight, LLC is not responsible for, and expressly disclaims all liability for, damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to, or reliance on such information. Spotlight, LLC accepts no liability for the accuracy of statements made by the advertisers. Send change of address information and other correspondence to: Spotlight LLC. 15 Broadway N, Suite 500 Fargo, ND 58102 or info@spotlightmediafargo.com


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Another One By Nolan P. Schmidt Spread Photo by Hillary Ehlen 2019 was a season of questions for North Dakota State football. Was this program in rebuilding mode? With a new coach, a new quarterback and a host of new faces on both sides of the ball, the rest of the FCS was salivating at the thought of knocking the Bison from their perch. But what ensued in 2019? The Bison only won 16 games, something that has never been done in modern college football. That new quarterback? He just went a full season without turning the ball and was named the Walter Payton Award winner...as a redshirt freshman. Perhaps most importantly, the FCS programs that were hungry to knock the Bison out were left licking their wounds as the Bison devoured opponents en route to their eighth title in nine seasons... Not bad for a rebuild, huh? 16

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0


17


WEEK

01

NDSU 57 BUTLER 10 North Dakota State kicked off its 2019 campaign in grandiose style. Foregoing a usual home game inside the Fargodome, the Bison took their team on the road for a de facto home game at Target Field in Minneapolis. Bison Nation descended upon the Twin Cities, filling the baseball stadium with close to 35,000 sporting the green and gold. Needless to say, the atmosphere was unlike anything seen in North Dakota State’s proud history. As for the game, fans got their first look at the young Bison. Trey Lance dazzled the crowd with four passing touchdowns (on 11 passing attempts) and two rushing touchdowns. Tight end Josh Babicz found the end zone twice and it was all Bison, all day against the Butler.

details

Date: August 31, 2019 Location: Minneapolis, Minn. (Target Field) Attendance: 34,544

18

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Rushing Yards

Total Offense

First Downs

Bison 388 Bulldogs 88

Bison 605 Bulldogs 198

Bison 25 Bulldogs 14


Bruce Crummy

RECORD 1-0

star of the game

#5 Redshirt Freshman

Trey Lance

185

PASSING YARDS

4

PASSING TOUCHDOWNS

5

CARRIES

116

RUSHING YARDS

2

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS 19


WEEK

02

NDSU 38 NORTH DAKOTA 7 Historic in-state rival North Dakota came to Fargo for a date with the Bison on September 7. The Fighting Hawks will enter the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020 with this match-up serving as a primer of what was to come. If this game was any indication, it’s that the Bison have a significant leg up on the school up north. NDSU opened up a 21-7 lead in the first half before holding North Dakota to zero points in the final two frames. The Bison tight ends came in clutch, scoring both of NDSU’s touchdowns through the air. This contest was also a sign of things to come for safety Michael Tutsie, who picked off two passes in the win.

details

Date: September 7, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 18,923

20

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Rushing Yards

Third Down Percentage

Takeaways

Bison 266 Fighting Hawks 68

Bison 64% (nine of 14) Fighting Hawks 42% (five of 12)

Bison 2 Fighting Hawks 0


RECORD 2-0

Hillary Ehlen

star of the game

#25 Sophomore Strong Safety Michael Tutsie

20

7

TOTAL TACKLES

2

INTERCEPTIONS

0.5

TACKLE FOR LOSS


WEEK

03

NDSU 47 DELAWARE 22 In what was the final phase of a home and home between the two teams, the Bison went east to face off with Delaware. Last year inside the Fargodome, NDSU crushed the Blue Hens and was nationally ranked at the time. This season, Delaware was ranked 18th in the country coming into the contest. Yet again, it was the Bison who flexed their muscles against this CAA foe. Yet, it came in unlikely forms at times. Trey Lance threw for three touchdowns in the win, which was commonplace at this point in the year. It was true freshman running back Kobe Johnson who stole the show, running for 101 yards and a touchdown. Johnson would become a staple in the Bison offense as the season went on.

details

Date: September 14, 2019 Location: Newark, Del. Attendance: 14,489

22

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Average Yards Per Play

Rushing Yards

First Downs

Bison 7.5 Blue Hens 4.6

Bison 295 Blue Hens 125

Bison 26 Blue Hens 14


Tim Sanger

RECORD 3-0

star of the game

20

#24 Freshman Running Back Kobe johnson

11

CARRIES

30

101

RUSHING YARDS

1

TOUCHDOWN 23


WEEK

04

NDSU 27 UC DAVIS 16 In their final non-conference game of the 2019 season, the Bison were met with a tall task. This task came in fourth-ranked UC Davis, who were attractive picks to win the national championship at the beginning of the season. The Aggies held true to their ranking, giving the Bison everything they could handle for four quarters. UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier threw the ball 48 times for 312 yards. However, it was Maier’s three interceptions that were the difference in the game. Couple that with a late Trey Lance run to the end zone and the Bison were able to escape their non-conference schedule unblemished.

details

Date: September 21, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 18,425

26

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Total Yards

Turnovers

Red Zone Percentage

Bison 354 Aggies 422

Bison 1 Aggies 3

Bison 100% (Four of Four) Aggies 33% (One of three)


Bruce Crummy

RECORD 4-0

star of the game

Strong Safety #26 Sophomore JAMES KACZOR

20

5

TOTAL TACKLES

1

TACKLE FOR LOSS 27


WEEK

05

NDSU 37 ILLINOIS STATE 3 As conference play began, North Dakota State was met with their usual gauntlet of Missouri Valley opponents. This began with sixth-ranked Illinois State in Normal, Ill. The Redbirds were a sexy pick to upset the Bison during the week, but those opinions changed quickly. NDSU jumped all over Illinois State, taking a 23-3 lead into the locker room. The second half saw the Bison score two more times and Code Green clamp down on an explosive Illinois State rushing attack. James Robinson, the Redbirds running back was limited to 94 yards on 20 carries in this Bison win.

details

Date: October 5, 2019 Location: Normal, Ill. Attendance: 13,391

28

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Rushing Yards

Sacks

Average Yards Per Play

Bison 293 Redbirds 79

Bison 4 Redbirds 1

Bison 6.9 Redbirds 3.9


Tim Sanger

RECORD 5-0

star of the game

20

#91 Senior Defensive End Derrek tuszka

5

TOTAL TACKLES

2

SACKS

1

FORCED FUMBLE

1

PASS BREAKUP 29


Homecoming

WEEK

06

NDSU 46 NORTHERN IOWA 14 Northern Iowa was another nationally ranked team on NDSU’s schedule, making in four consecutive weeks the Bison would face a ranked opponent. The Panthers, ranked 10th, were looking to spoil NDSU’s homecoming on this October day, but to no avail. The Bison and Panthers clawed to a 18-14 score at the break. It was 28 unanswered points in the second half that pushed the Bison to a big victory. Of the four touchdowns scored in the second half, two of them were from junior running back Adam Cofield, who ran into the end zone twice in the fourth quarter.

Hillary Ehlen details

Date: October 12, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 18,178

30

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Rushing Yards

Third Down Percentage

Rushing Touchdowns

Bison 347 Panthers 106

Bison 54% (seven of 13) Panthers 31% (four of 13)

Bison 2 Panthers 1


RECORD 6-0

star of the game

#18 Junior Running Back Adam Cofield

20

15

CARRIES

30

104

2

RUSHING YARDS TOUCHDOWNS


WEEK

07

NDSU 22 MISSOURI STATE 0 For the first time in school history, the Bison sported all green uniforms with green helmets, jerseys and pants. The Code Green game came down to just that as NDSU’s offense struggled to punch the ball into the end zone against an inferior Missouri State team. By game’s end, NDSU had racked up 447 yards of offense, but only had 22 points to show for it. On the other side of the ball, a ferocious Bison defense did not allow the Bears offense to get in any sort of rhythm. Missouri State could only muster up 12 first downs all game.

details

Date: October 19, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 18,252

32

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Rushing Yards

Sacks Yards

Average Yards Per Play

Bison 447 Bears 164

Bison 18 Bears 1

Bison 6 Bears 3.2


Hillary Ehlen

RECORD 7-0

star of the game

20

#42 Junior Linebacker Jabril cox

7

TOTAL TACKLES

2

TACKLES FOR LOSS

1

SACK

2

PASS BREAKUP 33


Dakota Marker

WEEK

08

NDSU 23 SDSU 16 The Dakota Marker game is one that gets Bison Nation fired up year after year and this game was no different. ESPN’s College GameDay choose to do their show live from Brookings to promote the game. Bison and Jackrabbit fans turned out in droves to support their squads on live television. That translated to the game, with 19,371 fans in attendance in Brookings. The game did not disappoint either. Following an NDSU turnover, South Dakota State knotted the game up at 16 with under eight minutes remaining. The Bison offense stalled on the ensuing drive and was faced with a fourth and one deep in their own territory. Head coach Matt Entz opted to leave his offense on the field. On fourth and one, Adam Cofield took the ball 71 yards and scored the goahead touchdown. Sweetness, indeed. details

Date: October 26, 2019 Location: Brookings, S.D. Attendance: 19,371

34

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Rushing Yards

Total Yards

Average Yards Per Play

Bison 332 Jackrabbits 220

Bison 394 Jackrabbits 330

Bison 6.7 Jackrabbits 5.5


Tim Sanger

RECORD 8-0

star of the game

#18

20

Junior Running Back

adam cofield

11

CARRIES

30

86

RUSHING YARDS

1

GAME-WINNING TOUCHDOWN 35


WEEK

09

NDSU 57 YOUNGSTOWN STATE 10 At this point in the year, Youngstown State was in a bit of a tailspin. They had been a ranked team early in the year but struggled early in Missouri Valley play. Yet, the continually give NDSU fits year after year. The Bison did not let history repeat itself on this day in Ohio. On paper, one would think this was a competitive game. The Penguins commanded the time of possession and gained close to 300 yards of total offense. NDSU was able to make bigger plays and jump out on the Penguins early. By the game’s end, the Bison were averaging close to 22 yards per pass completion. They also got a massive game from Kobe Johnson, who rushed for over 100 yards and ran back a kickoff 94 yards for a score.

details

Date: November 2, 2019 Location: Youngstown, Ohio Attendance: 11,102

36

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Average Yards Per Play

Average Yards Per Completion

Time Of Possession

Bison 9 .9 Penguins 4.3

Bison 21.8 Penguins 9.6

Bison 24:11 Penguins 35:49


Ric Kruszynski

RECORD 9-0

star of the game

Freshman

20

#24 Running Back kobe johnson

6

CARRIES

103 YARDS

1

30

138

KICKOFF RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS RETURN YARDS

1

KICK RETURN TOUCHDOWN 37


Harvest Bowl

WEEK

10

NDSU 57 WESTERN ILLINOIS 21 Western Illinois came into this game reeling, having only won one game at that point in the season. Going up against a juggernaut like North Dakota State is a tough ask for anyone, but more so for a below-average squad like the Leathernecks. The Bison opened up a 27-point lead before putting the game on ice with an 88-yard pitch and catch from Trey Lance to Josh Babicz. The highlight of this game came from true freshman Jalen Bussey. The running back only touched the ball six times on offense near the end of the game and ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns. That output from a true freshman only leaves opposing coaches scratching their heads.

details

Date: November 9, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 17,441

38

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Time Of Possession

Sacks

Total Yards

Bison 38:50 Leathernecks 21:10

Bison 5 Leathernecks 0

Bison 609 Leathernecks 308


Hillary Ehlen

RECORD 10-0

star of the game

#21

Freshman Running Back

Jalen Bussey

6

CARRIES

123 YARDS

1

TOUCHDOWN

39


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WEEK

11

NDSU 49 SOUTH DAKOTA 14 The story of this game was again NDSU’s attire pregame. Team captains opted to place the old Snorty logo on the helmets. The decision sent social media into a tizzy and had plenty of people begging for Snorty to stay on the helmet permanently. While NDSU did go back to their traditional logo, Snorty drummed up plenty of nostalgia for fans. As for the game, NDSU dominated a South Dakota team who was struggling coming into the game. The Coyotes gave up a whopping 700 yards of total offense to the Bison in this one. Safe to say, the Bison were “on” in this victory.

details

Date: November 16, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 17,844

42

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Total Yards

Sacks

Bison 700 Coyotes 245

Bison 5 Coyotes 0

Average Yards Per Rush

Bison 8.1 Coyotes 3.8


Bruce Crummy

RECORD 11-0

star of the game

#28

20

Senior Running Back

Ty Brooks

11

CARRIES

30

128

RUSHING YARDS

2

TOUCHDOWN

43


WEEK

12

NDSU 21 SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 7 Southern Illinois was a significantly better team in 2019 than they were in 2018, where the Bison put up 65 points on the Salukis. They were improved on both sides of the ball and that was on display in this game in Carbondale. The Bison struggled to finish drives, but Code Green was able to hold true despite Southern Illinois gaining some traction on the ground. In a game where points came at a premium, the Bison were able to find the end zone twice in the second half thanks to Adam Cofield and Trey Lance. Both scored touchdowns on the ground to push the Bison lead to 14. A final stand from the Bison defense was crucial for NDSU to capture an undefeated regular season.

details

Date: November 23, 2019 Location: Carbondale, Ill. Attendance: 5,423

44

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Total Yards

Yards Per Play

Third Down Percentage

Bison 392 Salukis 276

Bison 5.8 Salukis 5.3

Bison 57% Salukis 42%


Tim Sanger

RECORD 12-0

star of the game

#52

Sophomore Linebacker

Jackson Hankey

10

TOTAL TACKLES

4

SOLO TACKLES


FCS Playoffs Second Round

NDSU 37 NICHOLLS 13 Nicholls used a balanced attack to upend North Dakota in the opening round of the FCS playoffs. The Colonels were sure to utilize both the run and the pass as they traveled to Fargo to take on the top-seeded Bison. Ultimately, though, Nicholls fate would fall on the shoulders of senior quarterback Chase Fourcade. The Colonels were able to hang around, only trailing by four at halftime. They were even able to keep the game close, cutting the Bison lead to one in the third quarter. NDSU then rattled off 23 unanswered points to take control of the game. These points were set up by a pair of interceptions from Michael Tutsie and James Hendricks.

details

Date: December 7, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 15,690

46

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Passing Yards

Total Yards

Takeaways

Bison 169 Colonels 94

Bison 434 Colonels 265

Bison 2 Colonels 0


RECORD 13-0

Hillary Ehlen

star of the game

#25

Sophomore Strong Safety

Michael Tutsie

10

TOTAL TACKLES

1

INTERCEPTION


FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal

NDSU 9 ILLINOIS STATE 3 It was by no means a pretty game to watch, but it was a Bison win none the less. In NDSU and Illinois State’s second match-up of the year, the defenses took center stage. With both offenses struggling to gain momentum, the game’s balance hung with the defense and defense only. NDSU was able to limit Redbirds all-world running back James Robinson to 94 yards on 24 carries. Special teams were also vital in this game. Without the leg of freshman kicker Griffin Crosa, the Bison would not have won the game in the first place. While this game raised plenty of questions about NDSU’s offensive executing and playcalling, it was clear the coaching staff believed that nine points would win them the game. Whatever criticism ensued after the game was muted in the locker room because a win is a win. details

Date: December 14, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 14,132

48

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

First Downs

Passing Offense

Total Offense

Bison 15 Eagles 9

Bison 135 Eagles 34

Bison 263 Eagles 194


Hillary Ehlen

RECORD 14-0

star of the game

#36 Junior Running Back Griffin Crosa

3 of 3 ON FIELD GOALS


FCS Playoffs Semifinals NDSU 42 MONTANA STATE 14 Following the offensive performance against Illinois State, there were plenty of questions swirling around North Dakota State. Heading into a game with an upstart Montana State squad for the chance to go to Frisco, there was a level of concern in Fargo. Those concerns were quickly laid to rest as NDSU held a 29-7 lead at halftime over the Bobcats. This lead was thanks to two massive plays from Bison wide receiver Christian Watson. In less than three minutes, the sophomore had a receiving and a rushing touchdown, both of over 70 yards. From there, NDSU never looked back, thoroughly dominating a team that, on paper, looked relatively equal to them. And just like that, the questions surrounding the offense vanished into thin air. The Bison were going back to Texas.

details

Date: December 21, 2019 Location: Fargo, N.D. Attendance: 18,077

50

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Average Yards Per Play

Total Offense

First Downs

Bison 9.3 Bobcats 4.9

Bison 541 Bobcats 298

Bison 21 Bobcats 13


Hillary Ehlen

RECORD 15-0

star of the game

Sophomore

20

#1 Wide Receiver Christian Watson

2

RECEPTIONS

30

88 YARDS

3

CARRIES

2

TOUCHDOWNS

51


FCS N a t i o na l C ha m p i o n s h i p NDSU 28 JAMES MADISON 20 On a weirdly snowy morning in Frisco, the Dukes took command, scoring on their opening drive. NDSU would knot the game up a 7 early and after a James Madison punt, the Bison put up another touchdown on a Phoenix Sproles touchdown run. On a drive just before halftime, NDSU lined up to kick a field goal to stretch their lead back to seven. However, it was a fake. Senior safety James Hendricks took the snap and ran it 20 yards to paydirt. 21-10 Bison at half. The Dukes settled for another field goal in the third quarter. The Bison followed that up with a 44-yard Trey Lance touchdown run. James Madison would not go away lightly though, scoring a touchdown to bring the score to 28-20 midway through the final frame. On a pick play intended to Dukes wide receiver Brandon Polk, senior safety James Hendricks jumped the route and intercepted the pass with two seconds remaining. Game. Bison.

details

Date: January 11, 2020 Location: Frisco, Texas Attendance: 17,866

52

BISON ILLUSTRATED f e b r u a r y 2 0 2 0

STATS

Average Yards Per Play

Rushing Offense

Third Down Conversion Percentage

Bison 6.4 Dukes 4.7

Bison 281 Dukes 161

Bison 50% Dukes 47%


RECORD 16-0

stars of the game

#5

Trey Lance

Redshirt Freshman Quarterback

30

CARRIES 20 30

166

RUSH YARDS

1

TOUCHDOWN

#6

James Hendricks

Senior Free Safety

1

CARRIES 20

30

20 YARDS

Hillary Ehlen and Bruce Crummy

1

TOUCHDOWN

8

TOTAL TACKLES

1

INTERCEPTION 53


Photo by Photos By Hillary Hillary Ehlen Ehlen and Bruce Crummy

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HEAD COACH

Matt Entz A sit-down with the Bison head coach to unpack his first year on the job. The Dukes are on your three-yard line with the game on the line. James Hendricks makes a break on their pick play and intercepts the pass, sealing the national championship. What is going on inside your head before, during and after that play? There was plenty of chatter on the headsets about if we wanted to be in zone or something where we had a visual on the quarterback. Since the ball was at the three, it would have been a long run in our minds. Coach Braun did a great job because he said that if they ran the ball and got tackled, the game was over. It had to be some sort of quick pass. The best thing we had at that time was playing a version of cover zero with the safeties in the middle of the field.

made a huge play for us. My feeling was that I never thought we weren’t going to win the game at that time. I thought we were going to have to make a big-time play. Being a defensive coach, I was really excited that we got to seal another national championship with the defense being on the field.

They ran a route concept that we had practiced over and over. You’ll hear some people call it a pick flat and they motioned a wide receiver across. James [Hendricks] knew exactly what they were running because of repetition and preparation. They had ran it earlier in the day and the quarterback overthrew his target. I think this time, the quarterback thought his target would be so wide open that he took a little bit off the football and put more air on it to avoid overthrowing it. James came off and knew exactly where the quarterback was going to go with the football and 57


Photo by Bruce Crummy

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Following the game, in the postgame press conference, James said he left his guy uncovered to go get that interception. As a coach, how does that make you feel? One of the things we say over and over within this program is production overrides. If you’re making plays or setting yourself up to make plays, that overrides making a mental mistake or not being technically perfect on a snap. We don’t want to coach the playmakers out of these kids and for James to have seen the play so many times in practice, probably against the same coverage and to have seen it earlier in the day, knowing the ball needed to come out quick, what a huge play. Once again, production overrides. There was this narrative surrounding this team that it could be a year where you lose two, three games. It seemed like this team played with a big chip on their shoulder every week. Did you see that in your guys as the season progressed or was that a mentality you saw from spring ball onward? I probably tried to perpetuate that mentality a little bit. I knew we had a very inexperienced team as far as game experience goes coming into this season. I knew we had a very talented football team though too. I felt one of the best ways to keep these young kids focused was to continue to challenge them to be better and be at their best. When we had to go on the first big road trip or when we went to Youngstown where we have never played well and got a huge win. Those little things to continually challenge them and try to elevate their standard was big. A race to maturity is something we talk about a lot in this program too. We needed our young guys not to act like freshmen but to act like seasoned vets. As the year went on, I think you saw us get better because those kids bought into the mission that it was us against everybody a little bit.

Also, trying to eliminate distractions, I don’t want to be a distraction for our coordinators. I want to interject when I see a spot where I can help, but I don’t want to take away from what they’re doing because they both do outstanding jobs. The communication part and how I fit into it was probably the biggest thing I took from this year. Where do you see this team and this program grow over the course of the offseason leading into spring football? We have to continue to create depth. I thought we had good decent depth this past year, but I think we can continue to develop it. One of the mainstays with Code Green is playing numerous defensive linemen. Just because graduation happens, doesn’t mean that ends. Who is going to be the sixth and seventh and eighth guy that will play for us next year? We need to able to create depth in the defensive backfield. There are things on special teams that we’ll continue to rep from a technical, fundamental standpoint. How can we get some new young guys out there on special teams too? We always want to develop leadership as well. Who are going to be the new James Hendricks and Derrek Tuszkas and Ty Brooks and Zack Johnsons and all of our seniors, who will be the new faces that step up? It’s a player-driven organization, we’re only as good as our players are. I know they’re excited to get back in the weight room and start looking ahead to next season. It’s shocking that we’re closing in on spring football already, but I’m excited about it because of the new faces that will be involved. Seeing those guys develop and try to get themselves situated on the depth chart will be exciting.

How do you self-assess yourself through year one? 16-0 and a national title look great on paper, but how did you progress as a head coach over the course of 16 games and what have you learned the most in the first year? Some of the clock management things early in the season. There are so many variables and so much stimulus over the course of a game whether it’s the play on the field, the clock, the refs. Having 16 games under your belt, you become more familiar with your surroundings. Being able to communicate with your coaches quickly and give them the details they need too. 59


Coach

Reflection Photos By Hillary Ehlen

NEW TO CAMPUS IN 2019, THESE ASSISTANT COACHES REFLECT ON THEIR FIRST SEASON IN FARGO.

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AJ Blazek OFFENSIVE LINE COACH

If you could sum up your first year at NDSU in one word, what would that be? Culture As a new coach, what was the key to connecting with your particular unit/position group? Spending a lot of one-on-one time in the spring laid the foundation for spending a lot of time together with the offensive line group all fall and winter. Coaching in a national title game is a huge challenge for any coach, let alone a first-year coach. What were some of the challenges that came along with your first trip to Frisco and how did you handle them? I’ve been to bowl games and the playoffs before, but the time between the semifinal victory and the championship game really extended the season. You don’t really notice until you get home from Frisco and realize Christmas and New Year’s has passed and school is about to start for the spring semester. What is the one Frisco memory that will stick with you forever? Being on the stage after the game with my family. What is one thing you learned this year? Belief and mentality are some of the most important parts of a successful program. How do you feel this program continues to succeed long into the future? It is a player-driven program where the current players have learned the way from those before them. The expectation from players in the past to current players is much more pressure than any coach could put on a guy. When you came to NDSU, did you expect to be playing in (and winning) a national championship game? Yes! That is why any player or coach chooses to be part of this program. What is one thing you want you and your 2019 unit to be remembered for? Consistency & Toughness #KHCO!! 61


Dan Larson RUNNING BACKS COACH

If you could sum up your first year at NDSU in one word, what would that be? Champions As a new coach, what was the key to connecting with your particular unit/ position group? Getting a feel for their individual personalities and what was going to be the most effective way to communicate and coach them, as individuals and as a position group. Coaching in a national title game is a huge challenge for any coach, let alone a first-year coach. What were some of the challenges that came along with your first trip to Frisco and how did you handle them? Managing all the time when we arrive on Wednesday night and don’t play until Saturday. Being my first time in Frisco, everything was new, so ask the questions when they come up and listen to advice from other coaches on staff that have been through it before. What is the one Frisco memory that will stick with you forever? Having my kids (Stella and Oliver) on the field with me after the game. What is one thing you learned this year? The preparation and dedication throughout the course of the week/season from everyone involved with Bison football is hard to believe unless you see it up close and personal. The amount of pride that goes into NDSU and Bison football is unmatched. How do you feel this program continues to succeed long into the future? Staying committed to Bison fundamentals, the rules and principles that allow NDSU to play at a high level on Saturday while continuing to find creative and innovative advantages on offense, defense and special teams. When you came to NDSU, did you expect to be playing in (and winning) a national championship game? The way the players practice and prepare, we always gave ourselves a shot each week. What is one thing you want you and your 2019 unit to be remembered for? I was incredibly proud of the unselfishness and Bison-first mentality from the 2019 Machines. There was never talk about stats, they were always excited for the success of others and held each other to high standards of performance in whatever we were asked to do. It was truly about the team, the Bison next to them and getting a W. 62

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David Braun

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/SAFETIES COACH

If you could sum up your first year at NDSU in one word, what would that be? Amazing As a new coach, what was the key to connecting with your particular unit/position group? Working to get to know each individual within the group on a personal level. It was also important for me to communicate to the group that even though I was new, and some things may evolve within the defense,. We were going to work very hard to keep things consistent for the players and not deviate from the foundation of what makes Code Green great. Coaching in a national title game is a huge challenge for any coach, let alone a firstyear coach. What were some of the challenges that came along with your first trip to Frisco and how did you handle them? The other challenge was just making sure I enjoyed the experience. As a coach, you are so focused on making sure you continue to prepare and build towards winning the game. To be in Frisco with our team and our family is such a unique deal. What is the one Frisco memory that will stick with you forever? Finding James Hendricks at the bottom of that pile on the sideline, giving him a huge hug and then going to find Kristin, Lucas and Andrew to celebrate. To share those moments post-game with our team and my family is something I will cherish forever! What is one thing you learned this year? Bison Pride is real! It isn’t just a saying - it is action. From our players, coaches, the BFPA and this fan base - this place is special! How do you feel this program continues to succeed long into the future? Just continuing to know who we are and what got us to this point. Continue to recruit young men that are smart, tough, absolutely love football and value getting a great education. It sounds cliche but this program has gotten to this point because those within it have stayed humble and hungry. When you came to NDSU, did you expect to be playing in (and winning) a national championship game? That was absolutely the expectation and end goal. The standard has been set. The only chance we had to meet that expectation was to take it one day at a time. What is one thing you want you and your 2019 unit to be remembered for? I hope the 2019 Defense is remembered for staying true to what Code Green is all about. They played hard, they played fast and most importantly they played together! The brotherhood that exists in that group is nothing short of amazing - our guys were playing for something much bigger than themselves. 65


Noah Pauley WIDE RECEIVERS COACH

If you could sum up your first year at NDSU in one word, what would that be? Unbelievable As a new coach, what was the key to connecting with your particular unit/ position group? Trust. I make sure each player knows I truly care about their development as a person and a player. Once you gain that trust, I believe guys will go above and beyond for you. Coaching in a national title game is a huge challenge for any coach, let alone a first-year coach. What were some of the challenges that came along with your first trip to Frisco and how did you handle them? Landing in Frisco on Wednesday there’s a lot of events and prep that lead up to the game. The days are filled with meetings, practice, volunteer work and other events put on by the NCAA. Keeping our guys focused on the game is something that I tried to stress the most with my group. Coach Entz and the other veteran coaches did a tremendous job preparing us new coaches on what to expect while down there. What is the one Frisco memory that will stick with you forever? Being on stage with my wife and kids after the game overlooking all the fans that rushed the field. What is one thing you learned this year? I work with some unbelievable coaches and players each day. How do you feel this program continues to succeed long into the future? Continue to bring in high character and hard-working kids that have the desire to learn what it takes to be successful. It all starts with Jim Kramer and his staff from the moment they step on campus. When you came to NDSU, did you expect to be playing in (and winning) a national championship game? That’s the standard that other players and coaches have set when you decide to come to NDSU. What is one thing you want you and your 2019 unit to be remembered for? Doing anything and everything they were asked to help the team win.

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Gra nt Ols on

LINEBACKERS COACH

If you could sum up your first year at NDSU in one word, what would that be? Blessing As a new coach, what was the key to connecting with your particular unit/ position group? Working hard, treating everyone with respect and spending time getting to know them. Coaching in a national title game is a huge challenge for any coach, let alone a first-year coach. What were some of the challenges that came along with your first trip to Frisco and how did you handle them? All the pregame distractions are difficult for everyone to deal with. I relied on the older linebackers to be great leaders for the group and keep everyone focused. What is the one Frisco memory that will stick with you forever? Giving the linebackers hugs after the game. Very proud of every single one of those guys and to see their hard work pay off was an awesome experience and an emotional moment for me. I definitely shed a few tears. What is one thing you learned this year? Trust the system and culture because it works. How do you feel this program continues to succeed long into the future? By continuing to look at how to improve and get better. If everyone involved stays hungry and humble they will continue to be disciplined and do all the little things correctly that need to happen in order for continued success. When you came to NDSU, did you expect to be playing in (and winning) a national championship game? Yes. What is one thing you want you and your 2019 unit to be remembered for? No matter who was on the field they played their tails off and were all very prepared to go out and perform because of all the work that was put in during the offseason and the week leading up to the game.

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The Legend of Jimmy Football By Ross Uglem Photos By Hillary Ehlen, Ryan Workman and Bruce Crummy

One last conversation with the Bison safety on the heels of perhaps the biggest game of his career.

T

here aren’t a lot of Bison over the course of history that we know by a nickname. Sure, people called Ben Woodside “Woody”, but that’s a play on his last name. Carson, Brock, Easton, those are guys that have achieved a first name basis with Bison fans, but they aren’t really locked in with a nickname. Craig “Iron Head” Hayward. “The Gravedigger” Gilbert Brown. Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. Red Grange was the “Galloping Ghost.” It’s not always the best college football players that end up known by a nickname, but the most legendary ones. If there’s one thing that James Hendricks is at North Dakota State, it’s legendary. James Hendricks was a multiple-sport athlete growing up in Bemidji, Minnesota. Troy Hendricks, James’ father, was the coach at Bemidji High School after a successful career of his own at Minnesota State Moorhead, ending with an NFL opportunity with the Seattle Seahawks. “I love football. My dad, he obviously played in college, got a chance in the pros a little bit with the Seahawks, but we were a football family. It’s what we did. Way back in the day I could always remember backyard football games. Primarily he got into coaching again when I was in 7th grade, my brother was a sophomore. He played quarterback for those three years before I played quarterback for three years,” Hendricks told Bison Illustrated. “I was around it so much. I was around the game; I was watching film as a 7th grader. It was just my passion and it grew, and it became my passion really fast when I was in the 7th grade.” The young quarterback had a stellar athletic career at Bemidji, but the timing wasn’t great for coming to North Dakota State. Hendricks was a part of the high school class of 2015. In 2014, North Dakota State received a commitment from the most decorated high school quarterback in their history: Easton Stick. Stick chose North Dakota State over some major offers, and in the process sent a big-time message that NDSU was going to be his program sooner rather than later. The Bison weren’t looking that hard for a quarterback in 2015, and high-profile quarterbacks weren’t giving them much of a look, either.

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Hendricks will work out at Sanford Power and pursue a career in the NFL.

I’m not ready for my career to be over yet. I’ve heard enough of intriguing things about my football career heading forward that it’s worth a shot.” - Hendricks

“I remember the first day, my dad said coach Hedberg had given him a call. I think it was just when they became apart of the staff after Bohl left and Klieman brought in a new staff. He just said, you know, Hedberg gave him a call and said he’s interested in getting me up there for a junior day and kinda had communication with coach Hedberg from then on through my senior year,” Hendricks explains. “I was primarily getting talked to by NSIC schools and I had turned some away right away. I told Bemidji State just from being from a small town I didn’t want to be stuck in Bemidji my whole life, I wanted to get out. That’s why I was primarily looking at Moorhead State, Duluth and a little bit of St. Cloud State, a little bit of Mankato and quickly that kind of dwindled down to Duluth.” In a sort it’s-a-small-world scenario, Hendricks was actually recruited to Duluth by two current Bison coaches. NDSU running backs coach Dan Larson was the offensive coordinator, and Noah Pauley his receivers coach. “Yeah and I loved the staff. We got two of them now that were on that staff. Got their past two OC’s, but they were both recruiting me. That was kind of the running joke this year that all three of us ended up in a better place. Coach Larson was the OC and coach Pauley was the receiver’s coach. He ended his playing career not too long before that. So I really like that staff and the communication with NDSU as the recruiting went on, I wasn’t really getting talked to too seriously by NDSU and maybe that is just because obviously, they’re busy, but I was by Duluth. I committed to them pretty early and I was like, ‘this is the place I wanna go, I want to be done with the recruiting process’. Duluth is an awesome area and it’s a really good program,” Hendricks said. “Right when I did that Coach Hedberg gave me a call and he was like, ‘we were gonna offer you in the future’ and I was like, well darn it I should’ve waited maybe or wish I would’ve been told. I allowed them to keep communication. Some things went how they did with guys committing other places and that really allowed me a spot in the quarterback room at NDSU and they offered me and I came on a visit here and I immediately switched my commitment just because I knew,” he said. “My host was a guy from Bemidji but really my host was Easton. I really got to know him over that visit. I got to know Hedberg, Klieman and the staff, and just kinda was around the guys and was just like, you know this is the place I want to be. It’s a no-brainer. From then on, it was kinda, all the rest was history.” 72

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Hendricks then decommitted from Duluth and chose to be a Bison. Breaking his commitment wasn’t easy or fun. Hendricks then walked into a heckuva quarterback room. Carson Wentz was eventually drafted number two overall by the Philadelphia Eagles and is now a perennial NFL MVP candidate. Cole Davis is now the Director of Development at Wentz’s Audience of One Foundation. Easton Stick (should have won) was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award and ultimately became a mid-round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers. “I had known Easton from my visit and I was really excited because I knew he was an unbelievable dude, great to hang out with. I was anticipating, you know, I knew this group was pretty special and the first day of the summer, I remember throwing with him after one of our running workouts and I was like, ‘this Carson dude is different’. Just watching him throw it I was like, holy cow. So it was right from there I knew this group was ridiculously good and talented, but they were better people than anybody I’ve met,” Hendricks said of the quarterback room. “They were just unbelievable leaders, that came from Carson and he had kind of showed Cole and Easton the ropes already and he was doing that to me as well and I just knew that Cole and Easton were great people too and they were gonna battle it out for the backup spot. It was a really good room to be in and I think that’s where most of my growth as a man and as a person came from those first two years in that room just because of how good of people those three were and obviously coach Hedberg. It comes from the top. There was a lot of growth those first two years of me being in that room.” Hendricks was then sent where most true freshman quarterbacks are sent: to the scout team. There’s no red don’t-hit-me jersey for the QB on that squad, either. “No and I was getting hit. Ty [Brooks], and me, and Demaris Purifoy, and I remember Marquise [Bridges]. We were just grinding and that was what scout team is and you grow a lot and you get a lot tougher during that year. The first time I really got to play quarterback as an NDSU quarterback, not scout, was spring ball. I knew that I had the ability to compete for a backup spot. Just because Easton had gone 8-0, we knew that Easton would be the starter. I also knew that Cole Davis was a really good football player and I knew If I needed to play quarterback, I was gonna have to beat him out at backup,” Hendricks said. “Going into fall camp, the next fall camp I didn’t really get an opportunity to compete. Cole was obviously head and shoulders above me and was a really good player and I went into fall camp making a stupid decision, got injured, wasn’t really able to compete during that fall camp. I really kind of lost trust from some coaches and players actually because I went into fall camp injured, doing something I shouldn’t. That second year was a really tough year because you had to be a third-string quarterback which isn’t easy unless you’re content with doing that, but I have always been a guy that played so it was definitely tough. I had constant conversations that whole second year with my parents, just saying, ‘what do I want to do?’ Do you want to be a backup until your senior year and possibly start for that one year? Do you want to transfer, and that was never really an option for me, but I knew that it could come to that or do I want to switch positions? By the end of that year, it came to be that it was obvious that I wanted to stay in the program, and it was obvious that I just didn’t want to stay in the program just as a backup,” he said. “I wanted to help the program move forward in a position that I can play. I went into coach Klieman’s office after the James Madison loss and we kind of both had safety in mind


and we came out of that meeting with an agreement that we were going to do that for spring ball and the rest is history. I moved and I switched positions and tried to learn that as best I could” That conversation with Chris Klieman ended up being the most important conversation of Hendricks’ career, and a key one in the history of North Dakota State football as well. Hendricks was moved to the defensive side of the ball. Specifically, he was moved to the safety room with All-Americans Tre Dempsey and Robbie Grimsley. “That room was very talented. I’ll tell you what, coach Klanderman is probably one of the smartest dudes I’ve ever met. I learned so much from him. Most of what I know on defense came from coach Klanderman, I mean, that guy was brilliant. But yeah, I was being led by Tre and Robbie, I know Jaxon Brown was in that room, Eric Bachmeier. It was kind of us five, and I just got in there and, you know, if I was really gonna switch positions and do it I was gonna need to use my football IQ as an advantage because I was always able to learn things pretty fast,” Hendricks said. “I tried to pick Robbie’s mind more than anybody’s just because I knew I was going to strong safety and that’s where he had started for two years already so, picked his mind, met with coach Klanderman and it was just a really talented room with those three really. Robbie and Tre are two of NDSU’s best ever safeties and to be able to learn from them definitely helped me in the end of my career and coach Klanderman was obviously a big part of that too cause he was a brilliant football coach and that’s why he’s now at Kansas State.” You see, part of the “legend” of Jimmy Football isn’t just that he made big plays, it’s that he played all over. James Hendricks is one of the smartest, most versatile players in NDSU football history. Not only did Hendricks learn multiple defensive spots, he also served as the

team’s emergency third quarterback. We asked him how many spots he understood at least half of the playbook at, and the answer was astonishing: “I think I could play quarterback; I think I could play receiver. I could do what I needed to do at running back but I’m probably not going to be good at running the ball, but no pretty much just those two on offense and I think I did play four positions on defense, probably three actually, but I think I could play where Jabril [Cox] plays. So both outside backers and both safeties,” he said. NDSU safeties coach and defensive coordinator Dave Braun couldn’t have been more impressed with Hendricks when arriving on campus after the transition between current Kansas State coach Chris Klieman and current NDSU head man Matthew Entz. “You know, the first interaction with him was probably my second day on the job. He came up to the offices. I think he was visiting with coach Hedberg, catching up and just small talk. We got a chance to run into each other in the office and you could immediately tell that he was just, the way that he carried himself. A natural leader, passionate about the game of football and I think it was two days later, you know, he came back up to the office and he and I literally just pulled up cutups from the previous season and sat down. It wasn’t install, it wasn’t anything. We were just talking football. We were talking about how the offense was attacking us in this formation, and in this picture what we were trying to do. I just started asking him questions, I said, ‘James how have we played this coverage in the past? What communication goes on pre-snap? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it?’. You know, I felt like I was sitting in a room with a colleague just talking football, it was awesome,” Braun recalls.

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James Hendricks: backup quarterback, All-American safety, part-time linebacker, special teamer and… two-point conversion specialist? “That was awesome! No, it was a little disappointing that we were like, 50 percent. Probably because a couple of them were on me, but no that was fun. I knew going into the season they said they were doing “gate” and that I was going to be the guy and I’m like, alright, this is awesome. Knowing NDSU they’ll probably pull it and never do it by the time we get to game one. Coach Entz and coach Blazek said we’re gonna do it because, it is true, if we face a team that does swinging gate, we practice against that,” Hendricks said. “I can’t even imagine preparing for what we did this year because even in games when we didn’t run a fake we practiced “the gate” with probably six different looks and you gotta prepare for all those looks. Knowing that we did it at SDSU in the closest game of the year and unfortunately got stopped, but like, teams knew we weren’t afraid to do it in big games.” North Dakota State specifically put in a “swinging gate” two-point play package to maximize Hendricks’ abilities and give opposing coaches fits. Besides getting an additional point after the touchdown, Entz, Hendricks and AJ Blazek were focused on taking up the opponent’s practice time matching NDSU’s complex looks after scoring. “I know a coach from USD and when that game came around we 76

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talked and he was like, ‘Can you guys stop doing the swinging gate? It’s actually really annoying that we have to prepare for it’. That just goes to show that teams are a little bit stressed out about it and that was what the coaches had in mind. That was the goal and I think we accomplished it,” he said. James Hendricks was a great player. A great player. That doesn’t make him a legend. That didn’t make him “Jimmy Football.” What made Jimmy Football Jimmy Football was everything that he did. Everything. Defense, offense, special teams. quarterback, free safety, strong safety, Will linebacker. Interceptions, forced fumbles, big-time tackles, two-point conversion runs and throws. He did everything, and doing everything made him a legend. Every great legend needs an ending, though, and Hendricks’ ending was unlike anything seen before. The ending we’re talking about, of course, was at the 2019 FCS Championship game (played in early 2020). Trey Lance may have won the Outstanding Player of the Game award, but the game was defined by Jimmy Football. First came the fake field goal: “Yeah, you know, the field goal was interesting because I didn’t know if it was going to be a two-point play or a fake field goal. I didn’t even know when Trey threw that third and eight and it was


After a few fourth-down conversions and a few penalties, JMU had the ball inside the NDSU 10-yard-line with less than a minute to go. Enter Hendricks:

DAVE BRAUN “You know, we felt really strongly in just studying these guys. They didn’t have a two-point play all season long. So you’re trying to find the personality of the coordinator. It was one of those deals, I felt, go full-circle I felt really convicted that if they got into a two-point play situation that they were going to run exactly what they ran. Obviously, it wasn’t a two-point play, but, you know, critical down, eight seconds left, they needed to score. In that case, we would, you know, if we knew that play was coming, we would not have been in the call that we were. But the internal conflict I had, you know, on the sideline; there are eight seconds left, they’ve got a timeout. There on the three-yard line. You know, they can run the ball and call a timeout if they don’t score. In a perfect world, we would’ve played some vision defense to be good against the pick, but if they run the ball. If they run the ball with some downhill power, downhill inside zone most likely that back is going to fall forward and score six,” Braun said.

incomplete, you know I was looking at Coach Entz and coach Blazek and seeing what they were going to do and Coach Entz was just like, ‘Let’s do it’, and I was like, ‘all right, let’s go’. My whole time running out there I was trying to listen to their sideline, trying to listen to their players because I had never held a field goal this year. I held like every extra point, but I didn’t hold a field goal,” Hendricks said. “I was worried they would be like, ‘six is in’, or get out of their look, or ‘watch the fake’. They might have been keyed into it, but they weren’t alerting it so right when I realized that I’m like, ‘all right we’re gonna score’. I mean, at least get the first down. These guys blocked it better than I could’ve ever imagined, and I didn’t really have to do much.” Hendricks ran, almost untouched into the end zone. His touchdown extended NDSU’s lead to 21-10, a much different game situation than a 37-yard field goal attempt would (or might not) have. After Trey Lance ran in an improbable 44-yard touchdown on thirdand-forever, the game seemed to be out of James Madison’s reach. North Dakota State held a 28-13 advantage with 14:50 left in the fourth quarter. w The Dukes would not go quietly into that good night. Riley Stapleton, long a Bison tormentor, caught a five-yard touchdown from Ben DiNucci and cut the lead to 28-20 with 6:55 to play. James Madison then stopped a Lance run on fourth-and-short, giving themselves one more shot at the tie.

“The second that they lined up, our staff knew what was coming, our players knew what was coming. We had seen it previous to the game, studying those guys over the course of the entire season. Their splits and the spacing of those receivers to the field told you what was coming and to James Hendrick’s credit. Dang it, he knew exactly what was coming too,” Braun said. “He absolutely abandoned his man, but again to me, and I think that’s where some of my growth has been exponential in the last five years of coaching is, you know, I’m going to coach guys if he made that decision in practice I’m going to coach him and say, ‘hey you know that’s not where you’re supposed to do, correct?’, and he’s going to say, ‘yeah coach, but he’s not throwing it there.’ You know, I think I’ve continued to find a way as a coach to let guys be instinctual and coach them to play with conviction and go make a big play. Rather than coach with a fear that they’ll get yelled at from their coach because they didn’t do exactly how we told them to do it. Again, that is James Hendricks making an unbelievable play. It was awesome.”

JAMES HENDRICKS “They did it the first drive on a third and three and we literally practiced against this like, ten times a practice. We knew they did this in third and shorts and we were so prepared for it. I was so mad at myself for earlier in the game. It was the first drive. It was a third and three and I was late to recognize it and it was exactly how we practiced it. The two guys stacked, one guy was going to motion, and I was too busy communicating, and before I knew it, they had snapped it and I was late to it and it was a first down. I was like, ‘c’mon I knew that was coming’, we practiced against it enough. We saw it on the last drive when they threw the shovel, a little addition they added onto it. They hadn’t done that all year. They did a little shovel pass here and got the first down; I think it was on a fourth down,” Hendricks recalls. “When I saw it happening on the last play, I went like this to ‘Quise (Marquise Bridges), but he was too busy looking at his man because the call we were in you’re supposed to run with your man in motion. You’re not supposed to do swaps or anything. No switching your man for another. I was trying to tell him to stop or to tell him, I got it, but he didn’t see it. So, I just kind of got depth 77


and waited and it was kind of a split-second decision right. What am I going to do? I saw exactly what play it was, my guy really picked ‘Quise hard, which allowed me to kind of not cover him because he kind of took himself out of the play,” he said. “I just kind of went over the top and luckily he put some air on it, because ‘Quise undercut it so he had to put air on it and the rest is history. I remember sliding, literally, I slid thinking the time had run out and I look and right as I’m like this, I look up and there are two seconds left. I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me, but the celebration was awesome. I think there were guys on me for a while. Got up, hugged coach Braun right away, and then went to hug coach Entz.” Legend cemented. “When Trey took the knee. I didn’t run to the stage; I took my time. I was going to take it all in before I knew it fans were rushing onto the field. The coolest part was my brother and two of my cousins that I’m really close with, they ran to me right away. I got to embrace them before anybody else. That’s something I’ll never forget. Then when you get on stage it’s just like, you always remember the stage and hugging all the seniors that are leaving. I’ll remember hugging Easton, and Dan Marlette, and those guys last year. Just doing it with like, (Nick) DeLuca, and those guys the year before, and Cole Davis, but this one was so different,” Hendricks said. “Just because it was so, like, I was hugging coach Entz first, and coach Braun, and their wives and, you know, just really realizing where we came from just because this was a long year. You know, going to my roommates, and my senior class that was such a surreal feeling knowing that we did it, and ended on top. There’s literally, people say it all the time, but there is no better feeling I can say now than ending your career as a champion.” Coach Braun remembers Hendricks fondly: “I just wanted him to be reminded or to remember, you know, at his core who he is and what makes him so special. What he brings to the table, you know, if I’m talking to the GM of Kansas City Chiefs I’m gonna tell him, his 40 times, his pro-agility, his vert, those are all things I know you need to look at and evaluate, but if that’s all you’re looking at when it comes to James Hendricks you’re missing the boat; you’re missing what makes him special,” Braun said. “What makes that young man so special and so productive is that when the pads go on and you are playing real football there are ten other guys on the field that know they can count on James to do his job, get aligned. He makes everyone around him better, and his football IQ, and just overall instincts and savvy are some of the best I’ve...I don’t want to say some of the best, they are the best I’ve ever seen; the best I’ve ever been around. James simply makes his football team better. Period.” Hendricks might not have had NDSU Hall of Fame numbers or started all four years. He wasn’t a multiple-time All American. Honestly, it can be argued that playing alongside Robbie Grimsley and Michael Tutsie, he was never even the most gifted safety on the field. He is though, a legend. The Legend of Jimmy Football.

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What will be the one Frisco memory that will forever stick in your head? The celebration after with my teammates. From storming the field when the clock hits zero to celebrating on the stage and in the locker room after. It’s a feeling that can’t be matched. To some, this team was seen as the “underdog” given everything that happened before the season. How do you feel the team embraced that “underdog” role. What was the team’s mentality? Going into every game we always knew the other team was going to give us their best shot. If someone can get a win against the Bison, it’s enough to make their season. It’s their Super Bowl. We also had to deal with hearing how young the team was and how many seniors we lost the year before. So to the team, it felt like it was us against the world. If you had to define 2019 NDSU football with one word, what would it be? Perfection If you had to select one, what was the play of the year in 2019? Hands down Jimmy Football’s pick to win the national championship. Adam’s [Cofield] run against SDSU is a very close second. In your estimation, why/how does this program (student-athletes, coaches, administration, etc.) continue to succeed year after year? The tradition. It will always be about the program and not the individual. Coaches always say you play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. Where did you see the biggest improvement in your game over the course of 2019? I’d say it has to be when I got my first start against Missouri State. After that game, I felt I had a new sense of confidence. How do you continue to improve heading into 2020 and how do you think the team as a whole improves? Right now, it will be to get healthy and continue to get stronger and faster this offseason. The team will improve because of how young we are and going through spring ball and another offseason with Kramer is going to do a lot for this team. 83


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What will be the one Frisco memory that will forever stick in your head? Celebrating with my family and friends on the field after the game. To some, this team was seen as the “underdog” given everything that happened before the season. How do you feel the team embraced that “underdog” role. What was the team’s mentality? There were definitely a lot of people that predicted this inevitable demise to occur this year. Those people were wrong. What those people don’t understand is how this program develops players. They don’t understand that we had players waiting right behind those former starters just waiting for their chance to compete and excel. We knew we were talented and we put in a lot of work to prove it. If you had to define 2019 NDSU football with one word, what would it be? Physical If you had to select one, what was the play of the year in 2019? The last one. Jimmy Football with the pick on the goal line to seal the national championship. What people outside the program don’t understand about that play is that Jimmy wasn’t even supposed to be there. The call we were in is something in football known as cover zero. It’s man coverage across the board with no high safeties. Jimmy left his guy wide open to cover the receiver that he knew they were throwing to. He took a tremendous risk that garnered an even more substantial reward. In your estimation, why/how does this program (student-athletes, coaches, administration, etc.) continue to succeed year after year? This program always finds a way to be successful because it simply deserves to be. I don’t think there are any other programs that put in work like our players and our staff. We have more meetings, more workouts, more walkthroughs and more practices than anybody else. We earn what we get every year starting a week after the last. Where did you see the biggest improvement in your game over the course of 2019? My biggest improvement over the year was probably in confidence and leadership. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have to prove to myself that I could play at this level and do so well. How do you continue to improve heading into 2020 and how do you think the team as a whole improves? The best way I know how to improve this team is to improve myself. There are many aspects of my game that leave a lot to be desired. As for the team, we need to continue to have the same attitude we’ve always had. We need to show up and go to work every day. Anything that happened yesterday doesn’t matter today. Success is not an act. It is a habit.


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What will be the one Frisco memory that will forever stick in your head? My favorite Frisco memory will be playing with that special group of seniors for the last time. Those guys deserved to go out on top. To some, this team was seen as the “underdog” given everything that happened before the season. How do you feel the team embraced that “underdog” role. What was the team’s mentality? I think the team’s mentality was that we weren’t going to be the team that let NDSU and Bison Nation down. We knew what we were capable of doing and so many guys stepped up. If you had to define 2019 NDSU football with one word, what would it be? Physical If you had to select one, what was the play of the year in 2019? I think a play that really gave our team a ton of confidence was when we went for it on fourth down at SDSU to win the game. In your estimation, why/how does this program (student-athletes, coaches, administration, etc.) continue to succeed year after year? We all take a lot of pride in what we do and we care about the guy next to us so much that we don’t want to let them down. Where did you see the biggest improvement in your game over the course of 2019? My goal is to come in every day and get better. When you continue to stack good days on top of good days, good things happen. How do you continue to improve heading into 2020 and how do you think the team as a whole improves? We have to stay hungry and never get comfortable. At the end of the day, you are either getting better or you are getting worse.


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What will be the one Frisco memory that will forever stick in your head? Walking out of the tunnel seeing snow on the field but still seeing the stadium packed with green and gold. Can’t get enough of that. To some, this team was seen as the “underdog” given everything that happened before the season. How do you feel the team embraced that “underdog” role. What was the team’s mentality? Our mentality never changed, even after losing a bunch of experience in the previous year, we knew we still had the same goals of being the most dominant and physical team in the country. Taking it one week at a time, going 1-0 every week. If you had to define 2019 NDSU football with one word, what would it be? Adventurous If you had to select one, what was the play of the year in 2019? Adam Cofield’s 4th down touchdown vs SDSU. In your estimation, why/ how does this program (student-athletes, coaches, administration, etc.) continue to succeed year after year? Our program is successful because every single coach, athlete and member of the Bison is locked into what it means to be a Bison. Everyone holds each other accountable and holds each other to the standard that’s been set by those before us. Where did you see the biggest improvement in your game over the course of 2019? I saw the biggest improvement in my comfortability out on the field. I was able to just go out there and play fast knowing I knew what I was doing and knowing my teammates had faith in me to make plays. How do you continue to improve heading into 2020 and how do you think the team as a whole improves? I will continue to grow as a player, student and leader by continuing to hold myself to the standard of the Bison. We will continue to grow as a team by taking the time to grind every single day in winter workouts, spring ball and the summer. 89


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What will be the one Frisco memory that will forever stick in your head? The game-winning interception against James Madison. To some, this team was seen as the “underdog” given everything that happened before the season. How do you feel the team embraced that “underdog” role. What was the team’s mentality? We embraced it by going to work every day because we knew what we had and what we could accomplish, but we had to work for it. Our mentality was to attack one day at a time and to play for each other. If you had to define 2019 NDSU football with one word, what would it be? Greatness If you had to select one, what was the play of the year in 2019? Adam’s [Cofield] touchdown run against SDSU to take the lead. In your estimation, why/how does this program (student-athletes, coaches, administration, etc.) continue to succeed year after year? I think this is possible because of Coach Kramer and what he does. He truly builds Bison and really keeps this program going as the backbone. I also believe it is because of the strong tradition we have here and honoring that tradition by working every day and playing for the championship tradition and Bison brotherhood. Where did you see the biggest improvement in your game over the course of 2019? Once the playoffs started is when I really felt I turned on a different switch and became very confident and more of a leader. How do you continue to improve heading into 2020 and how do you think the team as a whole improves? I can continue to improve by striving to be above the top every day and not being complacent. I want to continue to become a leader for the team as well. The team as a whole will improve by doing what we have always done and that’s going to work in the weight room and morning workouts, and then into spring ball and so on.


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What will be the one Frisco memory that will forever stick in your head? Standing up on the stage, celebrating with all of my teammates and coaches. To some, this team was seen as the “underdog” given everything that happened before the season. How do you feel the team embraced that “underdog” role. What was the team’s mentality? The guys did an incredible job of embracing it. It motivated us throughout the year and we reminded ourselves of it every week. We “weren’t supposed to be in the national championship game” according to a lot of people. Yet, there wasn’t a single person in our program that didn’t think we’d be there. If you had to define 2019 NDSU football with one word, what would it be? Relentless If you had to select one, what was the play of the year in 2019? James Hendricks’ interception to end the national championship. In your estimation, why/how does this program (student-athletes, coaches, administration, etc.) continue to succeed year after year? We never look back and we play for each other. From the administration to the players, we understand that what we did last year or the past 10 years doesn’t matter going into next year. We continue to play for each other and the guys that have played before us that have given us these opportunities. Where did you see the biggest improvement in your game over the course of 2019? Feeling more comfortable as a leader on a team where we had so many. How do you continue to improve heading into 2020 and how do you think the team as a whole improves? I will continue to get better at all of the little things in my game. As a team, we’re going to work on being even more comfortable playing together and pushing each other on and off the field.


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ATHLETIC DIRECTOR

NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen reflects on another historic season in Fargo. James Madison is knocking on the door at the end of the game and James Hendricks picks it off. What is going on in your mind before, during and after that play? In my six years here, I was just really confident because our guys always seem to make a play when they need to. It was just a matter of time. Typically, I usually don’t get too high or too low with plays. The one that sealed the national championship, my son was right next to me and gave him a big hug. Just the emotions of the past year and all the change with coach Entz coming in and I was incredibly excited and happy for him, the staff and obviously the seniors. That all kind of came together in that moment. There were a lot of questions coming into this season and it seemed like this team played with a chip on their shoulder all year. Did you see them playing and preparing with a chip on their shoulder all year? I don’t know if it was really visible from a day to day standpoint. The one thing I will say and I’ve seen it in senior classes over the course of the last five or six years is that there is a lot of pride in being a senior here. Not wanting to let down the program with the

recent success and those seniors put it on their shoulders and they want to carry the program and have all the success the past teams have had. When there is a little bit of a narrative that the team is young or there is not enough seniors or doubt creeps in, I think our guys do take that as motivation. There is no doubt about that and I think you saw that when you hear coach Entz talk about his meeting with the seniors over the summer. They wanted to go undefeated this year. It’s one thing to say that, but it’s another thing to carry that out every single day at practice, in the weight room, during conditioning and all the things they need to do to make that come to fruition, those guys were focused and did it. 16-0. The first program to do that in modern college football. How do you sum that up because it seems like each season, this program takes another step forward even when it seems like it has reached its limit? I know it was hard especially after last year where you win a national championship, hire new staff, go to the White House and how do you top those things? This program continues to find a way to outdo itself. The thing that some folks don’t understand because

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they are not around the program every day is just how hard it is to win a college football game, much less 16 in a row, much less 31 in a row when you pull last year. It just takes a lot of pieces. It takes coach Entz and the staff he put together, it takes buy-in from all of our student-athletes, a supportive administration within the athletics program and across campus and obviously within our fan base. We’ve told them all along that you have to continue to invest to be successful and they have done that. Whether it is the cost of attendance to facilities, it’s hard to do. The fact that we were able to accomplish that and now step back and say ‘wow, this team is forever a part of college football history’, but you could say that about a lot of the teams we’ve had here. It’s just incredible from my perspective because you see all of the hard work, the time, the energy, the sacrifices that go into it. When it plays out the way it did, I’m just incredibly happy for our guys and for the staff. Where do you see this program growing from 2019 to 2020. Everyone already has the Oregon game circled, but where do you see this program going through spring football and into fall camp? I’m sure the coaches and players will tell you the same thing, it’s trying to get better every day. That is kind of our mantra in the athletics program, I know it’s the mantra in the football program, is just trying to get better each day. If you can build upon the foundation that the 2019 team laid, then you’re off to a good start.

Cumulatively, the athletic department is at a 3.4 GPA and the football team had their highest GPA in the Division I era. What does that say about the athletic department as a whole? The one thing we say about being at North Dakota State is that there are incredibly high expectations. It’s not just high expectations on the court or the field or the track or the mat, but it’s high expectations in the classroom as well. I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to be great in one aspect of your life, you need to be great in all aspects of your life. For me, that carries over and if you look at our football program, you see it. They are great in competition, they are great in the classroom, they are great in the community. It’s those little details of doing the right things all the time that is what carries over to success. I know I’m really proud of them because, again, it’s not easy to do. You have to be dedicated and focused to be able to do your best in the classroom and in everything you do. It speaks to the culture throughout all of our programs where there is an expectation to be a student-athlete here and you’re going to go to class and get a great education. I’m really proud of the time, energy and effort that our student-athletes put into it in all aspects of what they do here at North Dakota State.

Each year is neat because you have different personalities and goals and storylines, but I know these guys are going into the offseason asking how they can build and get better. They’re not trying to do it all in one day, but day by day leading up to fall camp, leading up to Oregon, they’re trying to be the best version of the 2020 Bison team. 99


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NDSU PRESIDENT

Where does NDSU President Dean Bresciani see NDSU and its athletic programs going in the future?

This football program has the highest GPA of the Division I era and the athletic department as a whole is at a 3.4 GPA. From your perspective as President, what does that say about North Dakota State University and the student-athletes here? It’s also important to note that there are 88 student-athletes with a 4.0 GPA. That’s crazy. What jumps out in my mind, is that we have administration and coaching staff in our athletic programs that are recruiting exactly the kind of student-athletes we want. They’re not just recruiting students, they’re not just recruiting athletes, they’re recruiting disciplined studentathletes. Discipline being the key part there. Our coaches recognize that disciplined students make disciplined athletes. That is a recipe that too few programs do not get.

happening in football. Across all sports, we are regularly one of the top ten winningest Division I programs in the nation. That does not jump out to you as intuitive sitting in Fargo, North Dakota. Maybe some other places in the country, but how are we doing it in Fargo, North Dakota? It’s because we are approaching things differently. As a person who witnesses all of the games and watches the team progress over the course of a season, could you have foreseen a 16-0 season? It was honestly the complete opposite. In the locker room after the championship game, I said:

Too many programs are trying to find a shortcut to success. Our coaches recognize that if they get a mature, intelligent, disciplined student, who is also an athlete, they’ll be able to coach them on the athletic part. They cannot install those personal fibers.

“Guys, everyone was looking at us as a team with a new head coach, a largely new coaching staff, a freshman quarterback and with 24 seniors having departed, and they knew we couldn’t possibly have a good season. They said this was going to be a rebuilding year. Now they’re saying well if that was a rebuilding year, what can we expect next year when they’re even stronger?”

Obviously it’s working, because this isn’t only

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major college athletics. It shouldn’t have happened, it couldn’t happen, and people were saying there is no way that it’s going to happen. It happened. What is going through your mind on that final play where James Hendricks picks it off? Having been through this so many times before, if you watch our players, there is a calm professionalism about them that is uncanny. We are not going to lose. I saw that with Carson [Wentz] against Illinois State where he very calmly said: “guys, we have 1:38 left”. Most college quarterbacks would have worried about having that amount of time left, but he knew he had all the time he needed. I felt that in the defensive stance as well. It was the mentality that we were not going to lose that game. There is just no sense of panic, no sense of questioning. That is a level of maturity and calmness that I don’t think can be compared. I’m trying to think of it in a military analogy. You have 18, 19, 20 or 21-year-olds, performing on national television and remaining calm when their backs are against the wall. That is an extraordinary testament to who these people are. Where do you see this program going heading into 2020 and where do you see North Dakota State University going in the future? The football program is probably the most visible point of attention we get because of the national television coverage it’s creating for us. Our athletic program, in general, is defining us as a major research university among major research universities. That isn’t necessarily an indication of size. We’re smaller than most of those research universities in terms of enrollment, but we perform in a way that is very comparable whether that be athletics, research productivity, patents, license and royalty fees. We’re competing with the biggest universities in the nation. I don’t apologize for us being smaller in terms of enrollment. I think that is one of our advantages. It means that our students are all in this together as a university community and that includes our student-athletes. They go to the same classes, they see the same advisors, they get the same tutoring as students at large do. I think that keeps them grounded and sober whereas some programs that are larger, the studentathletes are segregated and have a very different experience from the student body at large. That is not a positive thing for the student-athletes or the students at large.

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Senior defensive end Derrek Tuszka answers a question at Friday’s press conference.

Media Days

The quarterback room takes a break from media interviews to snap a picture.

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You can still win the limbo with a broken arm.

Pep Fest

The NDSU cheer team joins the crowd while the Emerald City Band performs.

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The wind was a little too heavy on this morning for Kobe Johnson to keep his hat on.

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The Walk And Tailgating

President Dean Bresciani is all smiles.


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The Bison roam nationwide.

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Cleared for entry.

The Moments

Wait a minute... that’s Joe Kerlin’s music!

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The Moments


wordsearch BISON BRESCIANI CHAMPIONS ENTZ FCS FRISCO HENDRICKS INTERCEPTION LANCE LARSEN

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TEAM MAKERS

team makers check presentation Team Makers presented their annual check to NDSU Athletics on January 25. The check was for $5.2 million in athletic scholarships.

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Team Makers saw cash donations increase to over $5.7 million dollars. Trade for goods and services totaled more than $486,000, in addition to more than $800,000 in other revenues with the total impact for Bison Athletics in 2019 surpassing a record $6.98 million dollars from 4,303 members. Team Makers continues to help build athletic excellence at North Dakota State. Through fundraising, the group helps fund athletic scholarships for Bison student-athletes. This year, the total reached the $5.2 million number on the check. Team Makers, with their Drive For Five push for membership, is looking to increase that $5.2 million number in 2020.

Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt

n January 25, Team Makers had their annual check presentation inside the Sanford Health Athletic Complex during a Bison men’s basketball game. The game, which resulted in a 82-70 NDSU victory over Denver, was halted at the under 16-minute media timeout. At that time, Team Makers Executive Director Derrick Land along with Team Makers President Chris Haugrud took center stage. Alongside NDSU Athletics Director Matt Larsen and NDSU President Dean Bresciani, Team Makers presented a $5.2 million check to NDSU Athletics.

“The Team Makers organization continues to be the standard-bearer for FCS annual giving programs,” said NDSU director of athletics Matt Larsen. “The collective investment in Bison Athletics through scholarships, cost of attendance, capital projects and other program excellence initiatives have helped propel and sustain NDSU as one of the best comprehensive athletics programs in the country. The future of Bison Athletics is very bright behind the support of these loyal fans and alumni and as we continue to grow in our Drive for Five.”

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Team Makers hospitality, texas style We know Team Makers has hospitality sites across the country, but where did you watch the FCS national championship game if you were not inside Toyota Stadium? There are several places to support the Bison down in Frisco!

Frisco wild pitch 2390 Parkwood Blvd, Frisco

Knockout Sports Bar 5005 State Highway 121 #101, The Colony

The Colony

Tight Ends Sports Bar 5584 State Highway 121, Plano Ringo’s Pub 5865 Kincaid Rd, Plano

Scruffy Duffies 5865 Kincaid Rd e8, Plano

vnyl 5800 Legacy Dr Suite C-11, Plano

Plano

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SWANY SAYS

BY JOSHUA A. SWANSON *Swanson is a native of Maddock, N.D., a proud NDSU alum and a life-long Bison fan.

Bison Silence Doubters Who Said This Was A Rebuilding Year

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his was supposed to be a “rebuilding” year for North Dakota State. HERO Sports summed up the prevailing sentiment circling the NDSU dynasty in its 2019 FCS Preview last July.

“This season will be the biggest challenge yet of reloading the starting lineup. Just three starters are back on offense and four return on defense. … The narrative in Fargo seems to be that people nationally are doubting the Bison.” In short, somebody else, namely, James Madison, or another Missouri Valley Conference foe would surely pour cold water on another Bison championship. It was just too big an ask for a rookie head coach and his first-year quarterback, new coaching staff and a program tasked with replacing the all-time winningest signal120

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caller in FCS history along with 22 other seniors and their championship pedigree. On the Bison Illustrated Podcast before the season-opener at Target Field against Butler, local FCS guru Dom Izzo, as knowledgeable on the state of the FCS as anybody in the country, who’s usually solid in his predictions, forecasted the Doomsday scenario for Bison fans. Izzo had the stones to say the Bison would lose three games to conference foes Illinois State, South Dakota State and Youngstown State. “I think they lose three times this year … they go 5-3 in the league, I think the young team they’re going to have, those teams are waiting for them.” Izzo was far from the only FCS mind thinking along these lines. As easy as it was to call this a “rebuilding year” for the Herd, the evidence seemingly there supporting the moniker, have we not learned anything from our history with this program? Apparently not, with memories running short, and


five years ago qualifying as ancient history. This was the exact same script after the 2013 season leading into 2014. A new coach, coupled with losing nearly two dozen seniors, meant the Bison were vulnerable and couldn’t possibly contend for another championship. Here’s the thing, though. And FCS experts nationwide, and locally, take notes. The word “rebuilding” isn’t in NDSU’s vocabulary, and it surely isn’t accepted by anyone associated with the program. There’s no such thing at NDSU Football as a rebuilding year. Whether it’s offseason workouts with Jim Kramer, NDSU’s legendary assistant athletic director for athletic performance, the first days of spring ball under Matt Entz’s leadership last spring or the prevailing thoughts emanating from Old Main or the Sanford Health Athletic Complex on campus, you can bet that this ten-letter blasphemy of a curse word – “rebuilding” – was kindling a motivation of sorts, slowly burning to an inferno of intensity, “just wait, we’ll show you.” And show us they did. The rest of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the FCS and the talking heads got a severe lesson. Doubt NDSU at your own peril. This Bison team not only won their eighth national championship in nine years, along with a ninth straight conference title, but they also became the first team in modern college football history to finish 16–0. No other team in Bison history had won that many games in a season, not even the iconic 2013 and 2018 squads, who each finished 15–0. To put this sort of perfection into perspective, the last team in Division I to win 16 games in a year was Yale, in 1894, playing a slate that consisted of Crescent

Athletic Club, Volunteer (NY) Athletic Club, Chicago Athletic Association, Boston AA and Orange Athletic Club.

the championship game to share in their brotherhood, including guys that played in the 1960s.

We could also rattle off all the individual accolades notched by the Bison, like Trey Lance becoming NDSU’s first Jerry Rice Award (outstanding FCS freshman) and Walter Payton Award winner, the first freshman to ever win the FCS’s version of the Heisman Trophy. Or Lance and Derrek Tuszka winning the MVFC offensive and defensive players of the year, and Entz the conference’s coach of the year. But this team wasn’t, and never is, about individual awards. It was about proving, definitively, that the Bison were the best program in America. It was on a mission to silence the doubters.

“Probably the number one thing or my greatest concern, it goes all the way back to spring ball, was making sure that it still looked like Bison football,” said Entz, describing the bedrock fundamentals that sustain college football’s greatest dynasty. “How we practiced, how we go about our conditioning work during the week, how we attack the weight room, how coach Kramer works with our student-athletes in the summer. That was my greatest fear.”

“That’s part of the desire of every kid [who] wants to live up to the expectations that our tradition has shown,” said Entz the day before the championship game against JMU, a game the Bison won 2820, their second win over the Dukes in a national title game in the last three years. It was a driving theme for Entz, who arrived in Fargo as the Herd’s defensive coordinator in 2014. The tradition and culture were paramount, and the most important thing, beyond getting to Frisco or bringing home another championship trophy, was making sure the Bison held true to their identity. We should appreciate that about Entz, his staff and their players. The idea that in addition to this national standard to uphold, more importantly, there was an internal one, living up to the expectations of the guys that played before them. Tradition means something different at NDSU. No other program, at any level of college athletics, has hundreds of former players show up to the practice the day before

In short, the Bison had to stay the Bison, and do things the “Bison Way.” Like Sinatra, Entz did things his way, never afraid to be bold or play the aggressor – whether it was going for it on fourthand-1 in Brookings late in the game to clinch the Dakota Marker, or dialing up a fake field goal in the title bout versus JMU, Entz banked on that Bison mentality as a difference-maker. Sure, you can say, and some have, that the championship blueprint was in place. But that isn’t to say winning this much is easy, or that by following the blueprint, another NCAA championship trophy was preordained. It wasn’t. What Entz and the Bison just did was incredibly difficult. That’s why only two teams since 1894, or literally the entire 125-year history of College Football, have gone 16–0. “Coach Randy Hedberg and Tyler Roehl were both two guys that I leaned upon greatly in the process. Of course, as a new head coach, it doesn’t matter what program, there are things you maybe want to tweak or change, but I didn’t 121


PHOTO BY Bruce Crummy

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want to reinvent the wheel. I wanted it to continue to look like, and feel like Bison football when you walked on to the practice field.” It was a message in place since last January, after the Bison beat Eastern Washington and Chris Klieman left for Kansas State. Entz told the Bison Illustrated in last year’s championship issue, “The number one thing that I tried to discuss with them was that we’ve been in this situation before. We’ve lost an unbelievable senior class every year I’ve been here, we have some of the most special kids that come through this program, ones that know how to win.” That included having a chip on their shoulders. “I know there will be those naysayers who say we lost this or lost that, they have a new quarterback, they have a new staff and my challenge to 122

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our team was that it’s okay for us to have a chip on our shoulders. If enough people doubt us, let’s take this chip on the shoulder and questioning of our talent and let’s turn it into a positive and turn it into a great spring, summer and into fall camp.” The Bison turned that chip into another championship. NDSU is now 128-8 since 2011, with as many national championships as losses in the last nine seasons. The scary part for the rest of the FCS is that the Herd shows no signs of slowing down or being content. This dynasty is as strong as ever, as hungry as ever and working to get better. That chip from last offseason Entz described has likely been replaced by another chip on the shoulder, to show folks across the college football landscape that the team from Fargo isn’t daunted

of the prospects of going into Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon next fall. Maybe one day folks will learn not to pick against the Bison. Everybody up for the kickoff, the march is on!


Profile for Spotlight

Bison Illustrated February 2020  

2019 was a season of questions for North Dakota State football. Was this program in rebuilding mode? With a new coach, a new quarterback and...

Bison Illustrated February 2020  

2019 was a season of questions for North Dakota State football. Was this program in rebuilding mode? With a new coach, a new quarterback and...