FARGO — For starters, a lesson in how to pronounce star Butler running back Brad Sznajder's last name. It's more like Snider.
The importance heading into the Bulldogs' season opener against North Dakota State Saturday, Aug. 31, at Target Field in Minneapolis is simple: If his name is being mentioned over the public address system a lot, it most likely will mean a good day for Butler.
"He's the ultimate student-athlete," said Butler head coach Jeff Voris. "He's an academic All-American and a dual-threat guy. He can run it and catch it. He's a really good football player, especially in our league and certainly a guy we expect big things from."
Sznajder led the Bulldogs in rushing a year ago with 972 yards and five touchdowns. He was third on the team in receiving with 37 catches for 275 yards. But for Butler to make national waves like it did in last year's opener, it will have to find a potent quarterback-receiver combination like the one that upset Youngstown State 23-21.
Gone are quarterback Will Marty and receiver Pace Temple. Marty completed 234 of 381 passes for 2,679 yards and 19 touchdowns. Temple had 85 receptions for 1,097 yards. Against Youngstown, Marty was 25 of 38 for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Replacing Marty will be sophomore Sam Brown, who played sparingly in three games last year going 0 of 3.
"Sam Brown will get his first start against the defending champions on the road," Voris said. "It's going to be a tough challenge across the board for everybody. Sam has earned the spot. He's a guy that has all the intangibles and the qualities that you like. He loves the game, studies the game and has moved his bar higher every day. He's gotten 1 percent better every day."
Brown was a first team all-state selection in high school in the District of Columbia leading his team to a pair of state titles. He's part of what Voris calls "a new year and a new team" from the one that beat Youngstown last year.
Playing a Missouri Valley Football Conference team has become an annual event under Voris, in his 14th year with the school located in Indianapolis, Ind. The win over Youngstown was the first over a Valley team in the last nine years, with most of the eight defeats by lobsided margins. The closest was a 23-15 loss to Western Illinois in 2012, otherwise Butler has surrendered an average of 39.5 points.
"Having played the Missouri Valley 10 years now, you always believe you can win when you enter a game," Voris said. "The guys who were around last year know that's true now. But besides that, I don't know if there's a lot of carryover from last year."
Voris gave his team an underdog speech earlier this week that was posted on social media. At one point, he gave a "Rocky vs. Apollo Creed" movie reference. So for an FCS non-scholarship Pioneer League team to trade blows with a scholarship Missouri Valley team, Voris said a lot of things have to go right before his team steps on the field.
"You have to practice Saturday afternoon game speed as much as you can," he said. "You have to develop the confidence and ability to play fast. You have to be a great teammate, do you job and not do more than your job dictates. You have to trust the other 10 guys to be in the right spot at the right time. You have to start fast and make it a ballgame."
That includes avoiding the problematic five-yard penalties like offsides or illegal procedure. Against Youngstown last year, the Bulldogs had just one penalty for zero yards while the Penguins had nine for 97 yards.
"You have to make them earn everything they get," Voris said. "If you can do all those things and be mentally tough enough to stay focused for 60 minutes — because the ball will bounce the wrong way for us at times on Saturday — you might give yourself a chance to be in the game in the second half."
A second half that will be played at a unique venue for everybody involved.
"I think it's going to be real cool," Voris said. "I know the crowd will be into the game, not only being loud but understanding what's going on and being behind their team. It's going to be a fun environment for our guys to play in. We're looking forward to the challenge."