FARGO — There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun greeted the North Dakota State football players Monday morning for practice. Players, coaches and support staff buzzed about the practice fields south of the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
Associate head coach Randy Hedberg ran his quarterbacks through drills. The distinct coaching tone of offensive line coach A.J. Blazek bellowed above cars driving by on adjacent North University Drive.
The familiar double-reps system, where two sets of offense vs. defense go against each other, looked the same as when former head coach Craig Bohl instituted the technique following the 3-8 season in 2009. Linebackers coach Grant Olson was teaching a couple first-year players like they were veteran seniors.
Cameras. The video team was everywhere, from individuals filming practice from the towers on the north, south and east side of the facility. There was an eye-level film perch. A tent with a green and yellow striped on the north end returned for another year of shade.
Just like old times.
Even the head coach lost his voice.
“I loved it,” Matt Entz said. “I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the camaraderie. I love to see our kids compete, but at the end of practice the kids walk back to the locker room together. We have a very unique tight-knit group of kids right now.”
The No. 42 jersey returned for another year, although it wasn’t linebacker Jabril Cox. It is now worn by true freshman linebacker Oscar Benson from Hillsboro, N.D., with Cox taking his graduate transfer status to Louisiana State of the Southeastern Conference, which apparently is trying to go full force into playing games this season.
NDSU is also in full throttle. Last Friday, the Missouri Valley Football Conference moved its league games to the spring, but kept open the possibility for each of its members to play nonconference games in the fall.
From a distance, it looked like another Bison fall practice. But, of course, it wasn’t. The players have cloth masks attached to their facemasks. Anybody not in a football uniform was wearing a mask. A couple managers soaked all unused equipment and practice pads with what presumably was a disinfectant.
“Take that away, the individual play stuff looks just like practice,” Entz said. “When they’re at practice, they do a great job of staying focused and being Bison. In this day and age, where everything is a 30-second sound bite, they read that stuff. They have enough friends or people they compete against on other teams that our kids are educated on what is going on in college football.”
What was going on Monday was a question whether the FBS was going to play this fall. In the FCS, Elon College (N.C.), the only independent remaining from the Colonial Athletic Association that is going to spring ball, canceled its fall hopes.
A Twitter hashtag campaign of “#WeWantToPlay” that started on Sunday night with stars like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields had some posts originating in Fargo. That included Bison quarterback Trey Lance, who said, “We’ve put in too much work to not get an opportunity.”
“If there is an opportunity to play some games, our conference is allowing three games this fall, I know our kids would love some clarity in who we're playing so we can ramp it back up,” Entz said. “I have no answers and neither does our administration. It’s day-by-day.”
Two players, junior defensive end Spencer Waege and redshirt freshman safety Dom Jones, are sitting out of practice with injuries, but Entz expects those to be short term.
And practice in early August isn’t going as long as prior years, Entz said, because players haven’t had the intensive offseason workouts they were accustomed to. It’s all about prevention of soft-tissue injuries, Entz said.
“But at this point, our kids are in really good shape,” he said.