'Everybody matters' mantra helped Bison win 2011 FCS title that started a football dynasty
Most North Dakota State football fans likely remember some of the main characters on the 2011 Bison football team—a freshman linebacker from Munich, N.D., named Travis Beck, a sophomore quarterback from Waupaca, Wis., named Brock Jensen and a senior tight end from Becker, Minn., named Matt Veldman.
However, Veldman said NDSU's headliners were just part of the success story that season.
Supporting cast players like Matt Voigtlander, Will Britt and Nate Moody also mattered on that team, which won NDSU's first NCAA Division I FCS championship.
In 2011, Voigtlander was a senior who moved to punter after starting his career as a running back; Britt was a senior offensive lineman who played sparingly; and Moody was a true freshman wide receiver on the scout team.
"Everybody matters," said Jensen, who now lives in Lino Lakes, Minn. "When you get 100 percent buy-in from everyone, it's a beautiful thing."
That championship started an FCS dynasty for the Bison, the first of five consecutive national titles, a record in the modern era of college football.
"I don't view us as necessarily the group that started the run," Veldman said. "We just won the first one. We happened to be the first in a line of teams."
After losing in the semifinals last season, the Bison are back in the FCS championship game for the sixth time in seven seasons. They play James Madison on Saturday, Jan. 6, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. NDSU has a 96-8 record since that 2011 season.
"That first (FCS) national championship gave us momentum. We had a young team with a lot of potential," said Christian Dudzik, a freshman defensive back on the 2011 squad who started on four national championship teams. "I think it set the tone for the following years because we had so many guys coming back."
When Veldman looks back at the 2011 season, he remembers players like Britt, who worked hard in practice each day even though there wasn't much payoff in terms of playing time.
"He was at practice every day, brought energy to practice," Veldman said. "He was a good teammate and a good senior leader ... someone who helps the team gel together."
Veldman also pointed out how Voigtlander embraced his role as punter, even though he was a running back the three previous seasons. Veldman marveled at young scout team players like Moody, who did everything that was asked of them.
"There are too many stories like that to list," Jensen said. "That 'everybody mattered' phrase really started to become real in 2010 and for sure in 2011. ... It was truly a team and a brotherhood."
The 2010 season ended in disappointment with a gut-wrenching 38-31 overtime loss against Eastern Washington in the playoff quarterfinals. Eastern Washington went on the win the national championship that season. That heartache helped set the stage for the 2011 team.
"I think we all saw and believed that we were close and we should have gone on," Jensen said. "We could have very well been in that championship game. I think we all understood where we were at."
NDSU proved to be on the cusp of a championship.
The Bison earned a 17-6 victory against Sam Houston State to win the 2011 national title.
NDSU started nine sophomores and three freshmen in that game. Beck had a fourth-quarter interception that set up a Jensen 1-yard touchdown run that put away the game. Voigtlander ran for 27 yards on a fake punt that set up the go-ahead score in the third quarter. The Bison defense was swarming, holding the Bearkats to 210 yards. NDSU senior linebacker Chad Willson had 11 tackles, while senior linebacker Preston Evans added nine tackles for a unit that started a combined seven freshmen and sophomores.
"I think leadership is the first thing that comes to mind," Jensen said. "That 2011 senior group is really a group that started to make leadership changes in the dynamic moving forward. ... That really trickled down."
Veldman said the way the veteran and younger players meshed was critical to that team's success, which included a 37-24 victory against the University of Minnesota early in the season. Bison sophomore cornerback Marcus Williams scored two defensive touchdowns in that victory against a Big Ten opponent.
"We leaned on each other and there were a lot of young guys playing and they stepped up to the plate and a lot of the upperclassmen respected those young guys," Veldman said. "We knew that they played a big role in everything. The chemistry that we had between classes I thought was unique."
In 2011, the Bison also had a scout team quarterback who turned heads. Veldman said he would talk to some of the defensive starters after practice.
"I remember some of those guys coming back and saying 'Man, Big Red killed us today.' It was Carson," said Veldman, referring to Carson Wentz who is now the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Veldman also credited Bison head coach Craig Bohl and his staff for molding the team into a champion. Bohl laid out the vision and Dudzik said Bohl, now the head coach at Wyoming, allowed his assistant coaches to do their jobs. Current Bison head coach Chris Klieman was the Bison defensive backs coach in 2011.
Veldman said players trusted the coaches to put together an "airtight" game plan for each game.
"We worked our tails off and we know our coaches did the same thing," Veldman said. "They pushed us, but we knew that they were pushing themselves harder than us even."
The Bison had a rich tradition in place, winning eight national championships during their Division II days. The 2011 team, however, started the title run in the D-I era.
Jensen said everyone has to be involved to create a winning culture in a program—scout team players, starters, coaches, the administration, the strength coach and the fans.
He added that championship seasons help the teams that follow.
"They have seen what success looks like, that's a part of it to. They know the formula now," Jensen said. "It trickles down from year to year and that's how dynasties form. ... There's more than just running out of that tunnel that you have to do to win championships."