Senior moments: Bison veterans contribute in a variety of ways to team success
Bored from going to school, and having nothing else to do other than attend class his first semester at North Dakota State, Ross Effertz decided to join a student group. The Bison football team.
That feeling of laziness instantly went away. Almost three years later, the senior cornerback is banging away at practice not caring if he sees the field on Saturdays.
"But you're here with the guys who have become some of the best friends I'll ever have, so it's all been worth it," Effertz said.
It's worth it because the Bison are 5-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Football Championship Subdivision heading into Saturday's game at Western Illinois. Effertz is from Mandan, N.D., where he didn't experience success in high school.
"I had a rough season my senior year and didn't want to play after that," he said. "But when I got here, I spent a semester of school and realized I wanted to do something more, so I chose football instead of one of those groups on campus. I'm glad I did."
Effertz's Bison career consists of two plays at the end of the Robert Morris University (Pa.) game last season. He's not the only upperclassman who is gutting it out on the scout team that consists mostly of freshmen.
Senior cornerback Bryce Bennot was a "Scout Team Player of the Week" two weeks ago.
"They're great program guys," said senior defensive end Greg Menard. "They love hanging out and giving it their all. They work just as hard as guys like us on the other side of the ball. It's crazy, I don't know how they stick around sometimes but they love it."
Effertz, Bennot and Menard are part of a large 26-member senior class that Bison coaches count on for weeks like this. They need leaders to keep the intensity after emotional wins over South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.
Not all 26 can play.
Senior receiver Eric Bachmeier from Kindred, N.D., is trying to come back from a broken hand suffered in fall camp. He'll travel to Western Illinois and is hoping to get a shot at an Easton Stick pass.
If not, that's fine too.
"You don't take it to heart, you make memories off the field too," Bachmeier said. "It's just not football the whole time. I think what it takes is us guys being around each other every day. The people who stay and contribute to the team are the ones who make awesome friends for five years here."
Bachmeier lives in a house with Bison players. Stick and receiver Darrius Shepherd, the two most productive offensive players, live two houses away.
"We don't look at people who play or people who don't play," Bachmeier said. "It's the character that we have."
NDSU's week will conclude with the toughest road trip in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Getting to Hanson Field at Western Illinois for a 6 p.m. Saturday kickoff is not like hiking the Appalachian Trail. But it does take the most planning in getting to any of the 10 Valley stadiums.
NDSU will take a Delta charter flight to Quad City International Airport in Moline, Ill., on Friday afternoon and bus to a hotel in Burlington, Iowa. On Saturday, the team will go through a walkthrough practice in the morning, take a few hours off for the players to relax and bus 47 miles to Macomb.
To address the juggling itinerary, head coach Chris Klieman won't have to babysit. Many of his players have already been through it.
"It's important that you have a lot of guys who have been there before in Macomb, know the environment and what the weekend is going to be like," Menard said. "You have guys who are able to adjust to the pregame schedule. The younger guys follow those guys so they know what's going on."
Effertz, meanwhile, will most likely not make the 70-man travel roster and remain in Fargo. His contribution to the Saturday outcome already accomplished.
As a scout team cornerback, he's responsible for simulating the Western Illinois defense. There's more to his responsibility, too.
"I deal with the freshmen every day," Effertz said, "so you have to make sure they're on time, doing things right. It's a pretty big role with the younger guys. We don't have a coach on the sidelines (during practice) telling people what to do so we have to make sure everyone is locked in."
Effertz admits the season gets long from mid-October until the end of the regular season. The playoffs rejuvenate his attitude, he said. He has days when he questions why he's doing it.
"I'd like to get a couple more snaps but to be honest, I'm OK with not playing," Effertz said. "I want to win. In high school, my team was terrible, I played a lot and it wasn't fun. My time here, even though I haven't played much ... winning is fun regardless if you're on the field or not."