What did it mean to you and the rest of the athletic department to see the bounce back from the spring to the end of this season?
Well, I think in my eight years here and six trips to the national championship, this one was different for a couple of reasons. I think one reason it was different was that this team, the department, shoot, the country had to deal with COVID, and testing, and all of the things that happened and led to playing a spring season. All of the adversity that everybody had to go through to get to that point was huge. Second, I think after the spring season, a lot of people around the country, a lot of people in FCS, thought the run was over. They thought the dynasty was done. They thought NDSU was back to normal. I think our guys and our department and our coaching staff took that personally. I think because of that, everybody was on a mission to make sure that everybody knew that we weren’t going anywhere. And so to be able to finish the season in Frisco, on the stage, hoisting a championship, I think that was vindication.
To your point about the press and the country, sort of writing you guys off, I mean, the criticism to me was ridiculous. Given the circumstances, to me, that was one of the more impressive 7-3 seasons I’ve ever seen. But still, what was it like seeing 18, 19, 20, 21, 22-year-old kids handle all those things the way they did? It seemed like a true business environment almost.
No, it is. And that’s why I feel really fortunate. I get a chance to see these young men every single day. I see the time, the energy, the effort they put into football and into academics to be successful. I see the sacrifices, the things that they don’t do as college students because they’re focused on competing for a national championship. To see all that hard work and all that sacrifice pay off at the end of the day with a conference championship and then a national championship makes me really proud.
What about this program allows for such consistency from year-to-year even when players change and coaches change?
I think there’s just a really high standard of excellence that’s been set and it’s been set for the last 60 years. When you have a program that’s only had three losing seasons In the last 60 years, there’s a certain level of expectation. When you come into this program, it’s to play for championships. I think recruits get that when they come on campus for recruiting visits. And they get it when they come here as freshmen. And then they enforce that as they become sophomores, juniors and seniors. We just do things differently here. There’s a team mentality. It’s a selfless locker room where it’s about the team and not the individual.
I think people are really excited to see NDSU take on another FBS opponent next year in Arizona. There are also future games scheduled with Colorado and Oregon. Is there anything else fans can expect from the FBS level?
It has become increasingly difficult to get those games scheduled because of the success that we’ve had in FBS games. We’ve won six in a row. But I’m excited because it’s an opportunity for us to play an FBS team and see how we stack up. The other piece is that we have a ton of alumni who either live or go down to Arizona throughout different parts of the year. And so we have a great alumni and fan base down there, and a number of watch sites throughout the year. So an opportunity to go out and play in front of them is something that’s really exciting. And like I said, our guys look forward to it too. It’s an opportunity for them to play somebody different, and to play somebody at that next level, and like I said, see how we stack up against them.
Is there an unsung hero that you think deserves more attention?
The job our sports medicine folks did the last 18 months with testing and enforcing protocols and masking and all the things that they did above and beyond their regular job was instrumental. In addition to all of those extra things, they were still rehabbing studentathletes and traveling and doing all of those things. That’s a group that allowed us to be able to compete. We’re eternally grateful for all of our sports medicine staff for allowing us to be in a position where we’re able to compete at a really high level.