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Bison to get rings before spring game

Spring football is a chance for players in backup roles to make an impression on the coaching staff heading into the upcoming season. On Saturday, the Bison will get their national championship rings prior to the annual Spring Game. Dave Samson / Forum News Service


They’ll line up on the east sideline behind a table full of small boxes at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome on Saturday. One by one, members of the North Dakota State football team will step forward to receive their FCS national championship ring.

For some, it will be their third ring, and at this rate, their one hand could get quite heavy wearing all that large-looking jewelry. These title rings are not something you pull out of a Cracker Jack box. You can stand on the north end zone and see somebody wearing one walking across the south end zone.

Some of these players could challenge Mr. T for ring power.

Anyway, then it will be onto the annual Spring Game, where at one time teams were split equally by senior captains and they played the game to win. It was just as hard-fought and physical as any game played on Dacotah Field or the first almost two decades of the dome.

Like anything else, however, times have changed and the Bison are adapting to the new model of spring ball: More reps for the younger, inexperienced players and less physical action for the veterans.

You will not see starting running back John Crockett do his thing on Saturday. You will not see defensive ends Kyle Emanuel and Mike Hardie put pressure on the quarterback. You may not see much of receiver Zach Vraa or safety Christian Dudzik.

“There are only so many hits a Kyle Emanuel has left,” said head coach Chris Klieman. “We’re trying to eliminate some of those. I would say it’s more mental, more getting your fits and alignments and less physical. It has become less physical.”

Certainly, you will not see the starters who have sat out all 14 practices because of injuries.

That includes linebackers Travis Beck and Carlton Littlejohn, kicker Adam Keller, safety Colten Heagle and cornerback C.J. Smith. So, if you go to the game or watch it on TV, take it for what it’s worth: A battle of the guys seated a little deeper into the depth chart trying to make an impression on the coaches.

And that’s OK. Football is hard enough on the body in the fall. No need for more. It’s the trend across the country for spring ball.

Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Northwestern and Texas Christian are among the programs that have eliminated spring games, instead going more to an open practice format.

“It’s similar to fall camp,” Klieman said, “where you used to beat the heck out of everybody as much as you can and then try to recoup in the last week. Now you try to take care of them because years ago people came into fall camp to get into shape. Now they’re already in shape when they get here so we’ve cut down a lot of the hitting. A lot of schools have done that in fall camp.”

You can’t argue with the results at NDSU. The Bison seem to have found the right balance of hitting and not hitting, mainly because they’ve recruited guys talented and explosive enough that don’t need 14 spring practices to learn how to block and tackle with force against each other.

And this is a program that relies on physical football to wear down the other team. It did it 15 straight times last season.

So if you walk away from the dome Saturday afternoon disappointed you didn’t see the top dogs play, look at two factors.

r There’s an intelligent approach to NDSU’s practice methods.

r The game was free, you got to watch football, and you didn’t need binoculars from Row ZZ to clearly see the title rings.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.