FRISCO, Texas — The North Dakota State window decal on Angela McFadden’s car and the numerous Bison football apparel items that she’s acquired in the last several months don’t go unnoticed when she’s out and about in the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas. She’s often met with “Go Bison” type of reactions.
They know about the team down here, the result of seven appearances in the Division I FCS national title game in the last eight years. The eighth trip started on Wednesday when the Bison arrived for Saturday’s championship game against James Madison.
“They know the school,” McFadden said. “It doesn’t matter where I go, whether it’s to get groceries or go to the library or whatever, everybody is like, how do you know NDSU? Everybody has a question.”
A big question this week was whether her son, Bison true freshman receiver Braylon Henderson, was going to play against JMU. Bison head coach Matt Entz put a quick answer to that saying he’s not going to exchange one game for one year.
His mother is OK with that decision.
“There’s always the mom in me that of course you want to see your kid play,” McFadden said. “But I’m not the coach. I don’t get paid to coach. I’m the mom. I’m going to let them do their job and I’m going to do my job.”
Henderson, from Plano East High School, played in four games this season, the maximum under the NCAA four-game rule before he would lose a year of eligibility. One more game and he would have only three more years to play.
The decision came mainly from a conversation between Entz and Henderson.
“Braylon, we could dress you for one game,” Entz said, paraphrasing his conversation with him. “But I’d rather dress you for 12 more games to make sure you can be a redshirt senior and I think that value outweighs the one game. I know it’s your hometown, and I appreciate his parents and his family understanding where we’re coming from, but that’s essentially what he would be giving up to play a fifth game, is he’s going to lose a season somewhere and I don’t think the cost outweigh the benefits of sitting him this week.”
Entz said Henderson did not question the coach’s advice.
“It tells me the kid is starting to become a Bison,” Entz said. “Here’s my concern, somebody grabs him and accidentally throws him out there.”
Even one play would constitute a game, and in Henderson’s case a season. Entz said if he were able to sit in an NCAA rules meeting on the eligibility rule, he would advocate for players being allowed to play five years total instead of four. He said even if players were allowed five years to play, it would be highly doubtful that true freshman offensive and defensive linemen would see the field, at least at NDSU.
It would be more of a benefit for the speed players like Henderson or true freshman receiver Jacob Lippe. Plus, having true freshmen come on campus in early June for summer workouts helps in the evaluation process.
“If they’re good enough to play, they’re good enough to play,” Entz said. “Usually come conference season, we know who’s going to be good enough to play for us.”
Henderson not playing has fueled speculation that receiver Phoenix Sproles is healthy enough to make it through an entire game against James Madison. Sproles didn’t finish the quarterfinal game against Illinois State and the semifinal win over Montana State because of a shoulder injury. Entz has said in two press conferences in the last week that Sproles is back at practice.
That means Henderson will be in a supportive role in the trip back to his hometown area. When NDSU associate head coach Randy Hedberg came for a home visit last winter and Henderson verbally committed, the hope was he would be back in January with the Bison.
McFadden has been to 10 games this season, including enduring the blizzard weekend against Northern Iowa. She often takes advantage of the American Airlines direct flight from Dallas to Fargo.
“It’s awesome that we get to be at home and have the team finally come to us,” McFadden said. “It was funny. When it was posted it was going to be on ABC; the one game that will be a channel that everyone can get is in our backyard.”
There will be about 10 family members at the game at Toyota Stadium, another estimated 30 to 50 who know the family and another 20 to 30 who will be somewhere else at a watch party.
One look at Henderson’s high school football stadium, a venue that would rank in the top five of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, is all it takes to realize how important football is in Texas.
“Even though he’s not playing, that’s still my kid, he’s still here and he’s still a part of this team,” McFadden said. “He put in the work this year and I’m proud of him.”