Photos special to Bison Illustrated (Justin Eiler/NDSU)
A ROUNDTABLE WITH FIVE TEAMMATES WHO BECAME LIFELONG FRIENDS THROUGH BISON FOOTBALL
When NDSU football players and coaches talk about their successes, they eventually start by talking about the process. They’ll mention that championships aren’t won on game days, they’re won during the week of preparation or in the offseason during conditioning workouts. What’s overlooked about NDSU’s process is the bond these young men make during their time together. Five years of hanging out with the same people you met during your first practice on campus generates countless special relationships within the football team. The 2017 senior class embodied that sense of brotherhood. We got five seniors in one room to talk about their time at NDSU and how their college decision changed their lives. Together, they take us through how the Bison culture creates friendships that will last a lifetime.
#7 Cole Davis
#93 Jarrod Tuszka
Warner, South Dakota
#62 Bryce Messner
McVille, North Dakota
#44 Matt Plank
#86 Jeff Illies
Lidgerwood, North Dakota
Topic No. 6: Preparing for their season after seeing the seniors the year prior lose in the semifinals.
Cole Davis: It was definitely out on the table. We discussed before the season, because last year, there was a thought that we didn’t want to be the team to “end the streak.” And that always sat in the back of guys’ minds. Then the streak ended and this year we talked about it, we know our goals. We want to win the Valley, and we want to win a championship. Like, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. That stuff is all in the past now. We know where we’re going. We want to win the Valley, and get to the national championship and win it.
Bryce Messner: I remember as soon as winter workouts started last January, every time we broke the group down after a lift, it was addressed, our goals, and we didn’t want the loss in the semifinals happen again, so I mean it was definitely out there. And people weren’t afraid anymore to talk about it because we wanted to make a change and get back to where we belonged.
Davis: With that, we weren’t afraid to stick our neck out there and fail, either. Last year, I feel like we were. We were walking on glass a little bit, but this year, we weren’t afraid to fail.
Jarrod Tuszka: The pressure was off a little bit with the loss last year. At some points last year, it seemed like we were playing not to lose versus playing to win. We were always so nervous about keeping this thing going, and everything. We didn’t want to be that class or whatever. Roll around to this year, and we just had a good feeling all year and it was just confidence and we didn’t have a doubt in the world that we weren’t going to do it again. That had been our goal. That’s what we set last summer and we did everything we set out to do.
Topic No. 7: What they will miss about the football program.
Jeff Illies: I was just looking up when we were taking those pictures, and the (football) pictures were passing by (the television) screen and there was one of me scoring a touchdown against Missouri State, and I told Bryce, “That sucks we’re never going to do that again, celebrate in the end zone.” Just the routine over the past five years where everything is the same every year, you know what’s coming, we know where to go. We had the lifts down. You know when we’re going to start doing the back supersets during the winter. That part is going to be hard to change or to get used to.
Messner: Every day throughout the year, you’re with your teammates and friends because of your football schedule, but now, there’s not that mandatory “be here,” and they’ll be there too. So that’s something we have to adjust to. Not getting to see Matt every day at 8 a.m., lifting and joking around afterward or seeing our friends and teammates every day.
Matt Plank: No more Fat Arm Fridays.
Tuszka: Ryan Smith came in and talked to us in fall camp. I think he hit it right on the head. I’m in the same boat as he is. He was saying how he’s not really going to miss all the games and all the workouts and the stuff that goes along with it, but he’s just going to miss the locker room stuff the most. I couldn’t agree more. All the weekends with the guys. The Spring Breaks. All the dumb stuff we’ve done over the years together has been so much fun, and we’ve made so many memories. It’s going to be fun sitting at all these weddings we’re going to have and just telling stories about all the stuff we did. And all the trouble we got into and the accomplishments we had and winning all those games and winning the championship. It’s really going to suck not seeing everybody every day. Everybody is going to start growing up and getting jobs and spreading across the states and getting married and moving out. It’s going to suck not having roommates. I’m going to have to get a dog or something.
Davis: As we move on, we’ll start missing stuff we didn’t think would miss. I was just thinking about the feeling of accomplishment after running three, four, five patterns when it’s 90 degrees and after that, everybody is just dead, and you’re just like, “Hell yeah, we just killed that.”
Plank: I won’t miss that.
Davis: I’m not saying…
Illies: You won’t miss doing that, but just the feeling of accomplishment.
Tuszka: Yeah, because when you’re done you say, that sucked, but we did it.
Davis: Yeah, because we did it together.
Plank: I don’t know about you guys, but I already recognize it in my everyday routine. We’ve only been done for two weeks now but when you go and workout and you’re not with your teammates or something and you’re listening to music by yourself, it’s just not the same. You don’t have Bryce or Jarrod across the room trying to up you by five pounds on bench or something. You’re sitting there…
Messner: Only five?
Plank: No, relax buddy, I remember when you were benching a lot less than that. It’s just different. You don’t have the guys around you 24/7. Some of us are already working 8-5s. Some of us are still taking classes with no football players or teammates in our classes. Even when you get home and you’re living with football guys, and you see your roommates a lot less than you did before and it’s just different, you have to get used to it.
Tuszka: We’re growing up, man.
Topic No. 8: The student-athlete college experience
Tuszka: I think we missed a lot of stuff socially in the summers, We Fest, all the fairs…
Davis: You poor thing. I feel so sorry for you.
Tuszka: But I think networking and how many people we’ve met because when I moved up here, I didn’t know a single person. I was the only kid from Warner (South Dakota) who went north and everybody else either went to USD or SDSU. I came up and met my roommate Grant Morgan at the time once, on a trip, and we talked about hunting and we figured we’d be perfect roommates. And so we moved in together. Well, I didn’t know anybody, but now, you can’t go anywhere in Fargo where you don’t run into somebody you haven’t met through football or a party. When I came up, Fargo seemed like the biggest city I had ever been to. Driving on the interstate and stuff was crazy.
Illies: My mom didn’t let me have a car for two semesters because I didn’t know my way around Fargo. She dropped me off in front of the dorms the day before fall camp started my freshman year, and I literally didn’t know which way was north. I had no idea where I was. We’ve come a long ways since then I guess.
Messner: I would say another advantage football gives you is, right away when you get here, you’re forced to do study hours at ACE and someone is checking up on your grades. A lot of college students will get to college and slough off and do whatever for the first few semesters and then have a wake-up call. I think for us, it’s really beneficial to have someone at your neck and saying you need to have this GPA and if you don’t keep up with your grades, you ain’t playing football.
Tuszka: The dining centers were nice and convenient. You can eat as much as you possibly want, whenever you wanted. That’s been an eye-opener being done with ball — having to cook.
Illies: Yeah, buying groceries and stuff.
Plank: I didn’t realize it was so expensive. That sucks.
Davis: Especially trying to eat healthy. It’s cliché, but the work ethic part of it, from the outside, it looks pretty glamorous, winning championships and all these rings and all these trophies. But there is a ton of hard work that goes on behind the scenes, and we’ve been a part of that culture for five years now, and I think it’s instilled in us, that work ethic. We’ll have it the rest of our lives.
Plank: And they always tried to find a way to make the program that way. Like we talked about, we have been here for four national championships already, and each year, Coach (Jim) Kramer, Coach (Chris) Klieman or somebody who is setting schedules and making workouts, they always try to find one or two things to add in there just to make sure we’re not comfortable. Christian Dudzik said it one time, he was like, “You have to become comfortable being uncomfortable.” And that is something you get taught at NDSU.
Topic No. 9: Defining Bison Pride
Plank: Everybody says it, it’s just us. Like we’ve talked about this whole time, what made our class so special, what makes this place so special, is the community of the players. After the national championship game, you have hundreds of guys there from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and guys who played five years ago. They’re all down there (Frisco), and they know you by name and all shake your hand. You can talk to them for 20-25 minutes and you just met them. That’s something you don’t get just anywhere. That’s the Bison Pride piece that’s going to stick with me.
Messner: There’s a big sense of respect for one another that comes along with it.
Tuszka: Across the states, there’s all these different colleges and they’ll all tell you family this, family that, and their place is so special. And I can’t say I know. I only know North Dakota State. But I truly believe you put us up against anyone else as a team and how close we are, I don’t really think anyone could match up with us. It’s tough to even explain the whole Bison Pride thing. You see so much. You feel so much of it. I feel like next year when we’re sitting there, watching football games and they’re running out and stuff, we’re going to be shaking with chills and just ready to rock. It’s one of those things you do so many times. It’s all you know for five years. That’s all you’ll ever know. I’ll definitely miss that. Just the game day feelings and being ready to run through a brick wall.
Davis: The culture that has been developed here, not just within football, but within the community and within the state, in everyone who supports us. Like the former players, they all understand what we do and how we do it, and we do it the right way, and they appreciate that and they support us when we’re doing that. So I think everyone has their own, everyone is going to give a different version of Bison Pride, but I think that’s the beauty of it.
Illies: I feel like when you’re younger, like your first time traveling you have to give Bison Pride speeches at our pregame meetings. But when you’re younger, it’s more about the work ethic and treating every game the same and all that, but as you get older, you realize it’s more about the brother next to you and the connections you’re making and how tight you are. That’s why we win games. We do everything together and it produces results.
Tuszka: It’s tough to put into words. It’s more of a feeling. You have to be a part of it to feel it and understand it. It’s tough to describe and you could talk about it for the next 20 years and everyone is going to describe it their own way and you won’t be able to put it into words.
Messner: It is cool when we have speakers come in and they all have a different variety of how they feel it. It’s cool.
Tuszka: Then you get the guys who come from totally different eras. They’ll come in, and we had a different speaker every week at fall camp. Guys who didn’t play together, guys that played years apart, but they’ll all say pretty much the same thing every time. It’s all similar speech or topic. They’ll say the same thing but a little differently. It’s funny, from what’s been built here, and just the program and the foundation has been the same for so long and it’ll be the same for years after us. That’s pretty cool. It’s been a blast and a great opportunity and it’s been fun to be a part of.
Illies: I can’t wait for when it’s a “30 for 30.”
Tuszka: Best decision I’ve ever made, that’s for sure.