Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
“Those who stay will be champions.” These powerful words from former Bison football coach Pat Simmers had a strong impact on Todd Zabel’s life. Zabel was a cornerback and a key player on the dominant Bison football teams in the late 1980s. Simmers’ words convinced Zabel that NDSU was the right college for him out of high school, and once he arrived in Fargo, the rest is history. Zabel left NDSU with lessons that have guided him through the rest of his life and led him to a successful post-playing career.
Zabel’s vision of becoming a Bison wasn’t always clear. There was a time when it looked like he would play football for the University of North Dakota. The West Fargo native had to choose between the local school he grew up around and its in-state rival.
“I did my recruiting visit up to UND and two my best friends from high school were also recruited by UND,” Zabel said. “They ended up going there. I had a good visit and they offered me a full-ride. Then, I visited NDSU and Pat Simmers was the recruiting coach for Don Morton. Simmers sold me a bill of goods. He told me, ‘We want you to be a Bison and we want you to play here, but we don’t have any money for you.”
Zabel made a difficult life decision that proved to be the best decision he ever made. He took a chance on NDSU and ignored his chance at a guaranteed scholarship to play with his friends at UND.
He excelled alongside other Bison greats like Phil Hansen. Zabel was even voted captain his senior year.NDSU taught him lessons nowhere else could have.
NDSU taught him lessons nowhere else could have, and, eventually, his football playing investment paid off with a scholarship.
“Early is on time.”
“Lead, follow or get out of the way.”
“We all make mistakes, just don’t repeat them, and avoid fatal mistakes you can’t recover from.”
These phrases and philosophies were drilled into Zabel during his most formative years and they have guided his path ever since.
Zabel now leads a successful career at Bell State Bank and Trust, where he has been the president of the West Fargo branch since 2006. He has been with the company for almost 10 years and continues to love every minute of it.
As with many former Bison athletes, Zabel continues to be involved with NDSU today. As a long-time member of Team Makers (since he graduated from college), he donates to NDSU and wants to do whatever he can to help them succeed and continue to grow as a program.
Zabel is also involved in many volunteer programs. Most notably, he’s the president of the Kiwanis Club in Fargo. This is a local and national program where the mission is to serve children in the Fargo community and around the world. Zabel said he is proud to be part of such a great organization and is a huge part of his life.
With the challenges of college football in the past, Zabel’s challenge today is trying to find a balance between work, life and spending quality time with his family. He has a daughter (Alyssa) in seventh grade and a son (Kai) in kindergarten. They both attend Oak Grove Lutheran School in Fargo.
“You spend those early years hopefully trying to find a career path that you will excel in,” said Zabel. “You are spending a lot of hours on that and that’s kind of your focus. Now for me it’s, I love my job, I love the people I work for and I like the customers and co-workers I have, but we spend a lot of time at work. I think we need to spend more time building our relationships with family and friends. We need to enjoy our hobbies, deepen our faith and give back to the community.”
Zabel knows what is important to him at this stage in his life and how to go about making it happen.
He took a leap of faith choosing to come to NDSU without a full ride, but it was a choice that has led the former Bison to prosperity not only in work but in life.