Championship Conversations: Matt Larsen

NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen reflects on another historic season in Fargo.

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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 they’ve 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 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.

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.

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.

Championship Conversations: Matt Larsen
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