Bison begin football practice minus the proverbial target on their back
FARGO—The six North Dakota State running backs were chumming it up at the outset of practice, but it wouldn't be long before the intensity meter started to crank up. It was a hot August morning, especially for North Dakota, and the football practice fields were buzzing again with green and gold jerseys.
Ladies and gentlemen, fall camp has started for the Bison.
But for the first time in five years, it has started without the reminder that they are the defending FCS national champions. For the first time in five years, nobody asked about complacency.
There's no such thing when your last game was a loss, in this case a 27-17 defeat to James Madison in the FCS semifinals last December.
"For the first time as a group, we haven't had the pressure on us," said defensive lineman Nate Tanguay. "I mean, the last few years, I think we felt a lot of pressure. Everybody was talking about that streak we had with the five national titles in a row and honestly I think (the loss) gave us a breath of fresh air. It was the worst thing that could happen and the best thing that ever happened to us."
The Bison began on Monday, July 31, with 21 seniors who wide receiver RJ Urzendowski said will all have some sort of leadership role. He said not having a national title to look back upon made it for a different feel in the offseason.
"It helps having those 21 seniors so everybody has taken on more of a load," he said. "There's definitely more of a fire. We had that target on our backs for so long so now we have to get it back."
For the record, Chris Klieman took a more coach-like stance on the subject as the head guy saying the first day was the same whether the Bison were coming off a national title or not.
"Every year is different so this is a new year," he said.
The next three weeks will be different in the following aspect: There will be no two-a-day practices. The NCAA Division I Council passed the legislation last spring after several years of a modified two-a-day setup.
To maintain the same number of practices before the first game, teams were allowed to begin the season a week earlier than they had in the past.
"I understand why they're doing it and the fact it's a safety issue," Klieman said. "As an old-school coach, I'd rather have the two-a-day if you do it right."
In this case, Klieman said doing it right meant not having two contact practices in one day, rather making the afternoon workout more for mental situations, fundamental drills and special teams work.
"I don't know if a number of coaches were hitting in consecutive practices but you just don't need to do that anymore," he said. "But it's here to stay so we have to be able to adjust."
That may include adjusting on the fly. Klieman said he has a practice plan mapped out in advance of the Sept. 2 opener at home against Mississippi Valley State. Teams are allowed three hours for a practice so Klieman said the former afternoon workout will be replaced with either a weight training session, a walk-through or extra meeting time.
"Honestly, it will be interesting to talk to you at the end of fall camp to see how we attacked it," he said.