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Weber State coach values early season test against NDSU

FARGO – Weber State is located closer to the Wasatch Mountains than Great Salt Lake. So first-year head coach Jay Hill will not have a place to stick his big toe in the water when it comes to his team’s football schedule.

The Wildcats are going all-in.

They open their season Aug. 30 at Arizona State, a team that reached the Pac-12 Conference championship game last year. The home opener the following week is against a team that has won even more in the past few years: three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State.

That was by design.

“I wanted to play a good FCS team just because our players need to know what a great FCS program looks like and plays like,” Hill said. “I wanted them to study a team like this early in the year so it made sense to put them on the schedule when we had the opportunity.”

Hill’s comments were made at the Big Sky Conference Kickoff media event on Tuesday. Weber, with just five games in Ogden this season, needed a home game so the home-and-home contract with NDSU made sense to the Wildcats. They travel to Fargo in 2015.

“If you’re not excited about that game, then you don’t love college football because not many teams get the chance to play the three-time defending champion,” Hill told Grand Forks Herald reporter Tom Miller. “I think they’re excited. We’re excited about the Arizona State game. We want to go out and show that we belong at least on the same field with teams like that. The last few years, I don’t think they felt that way.”

Weber went 4-19 in the two years Jody Sears was head coach. That included a 3-13 record in the Big Sky. Sears took the job in a bizarre twist when John L. Smith resigned before coaching a game.

Hill came to Weber after spending 13 years as an assistant at the University of Utah, where he gained his reputation as a top recruiter. The plan, he said, is to build a program that plays solid defense and can run the ball behind a solid offensive line.

In other words, he wants to look like NDSU, he said.

“They don’t turn the ball over and they don’t make dumb mistakes,” Hill said. “Are they beatable? Sure, everyone’s beatable and so that’s the approach we’re going to take. We’re going to have to play their game. We’re going to have to play great defense, not turn the ball over and obviously play well to win.”

It will be NDSU’s second trip to Stewart Stadium. The Bison won 31-7 in 2004 in NDSU’s first season as a NCAA Division I school. It’s been a mostly steady rise the last 10 years for the Bison, while the Wildcats have mostly been hanging around .500. There was a 10-4 season in 2008, but that was about the last bastion of success for the program.

“I think we have to be tougher,” Hill said. “Last year the style of play and the overall record showed we have to be tougher. We have to be more disciplined.”

The conference has gained a reputation over the past few years of high-flying offensive football. Hill, citing the toughness factor, has other ideas.

“If you allow them to put up 50, 60 points, you’re going to get beat,” he said. “You have to hold some of these high-powered teams down to be able to have an opportunity to win. If you don’t, you’re going to get beat.”

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.