FRISCO, Texas -- The rain stopped, finally, and the green natural grass of Toyota Stadium was finally visible to the North Dakota State football players on Friday afternoon. It’s showtime.
The NCAA Division I FCS national title game against Eastern Washington on Saturday will also be NDSU’s first game on grass this season. It’s a question head coach Chris Klieman gets every time the Bison play here.
Will that be a factor?
Klieman has experience on how the Bison adapt to a different service other than artificial turf. He said he would have liked his team to practice on an adjacent grass field next to Toyota Stadium on Thursday, but the rain forced the Bison inside to a local high school indoor practice field.
NDSU played all 14 games this season on turf and the last grass game was the 2017 title game against James Madison.
“We’re on grass now so much in fall camp and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Klieman said, before turning his attention to the Toyota surface. “It’s really short, tight grass.”
Experience of playing at Toyota will also help, Klieman said. The Bison are playing in the title game for the seventh time in eight years.
“And the other thing that helps is we've been here before and many of these guys have played on the surface,” Klieman said. “And we'll get out there in pregame warm-ups and run around, and we'll be ready for the surface.”
Ellefson wins Elite 90 Award
Another year, another NCAA Elite 90 Award winner for NDSU. Tight end Ben Ellefson was honored Friday, a distinction that goes to the player with the highest grade-point average in a title game. The junior from Hawley, Minn., carries a 3.94 GPA in sport management.
“It's about managing time well,” Ellefson said. “We talk about that a lot from the moment we arrive as freshman at NDSU. Having football helped with my time management. It made me have to be on top of things because, if I didn't, it would come back to bite me. You have to always be aware of what you need to get done as a student."
It’s the 11th time since 2011 a Bison student-athlete has won the award starting with golfer Amy Anderson and track and field sprinter Whitney Carlson. Linebacker Esley Thornton was honored in the 2012 title game and quarterback Carson Wentz won it each of the next three years.
Wrestler Clay Ream was a back-to-back winner in 2016 and 2017 at the NCAA Championships. Last year, Bison football player Daniel Polansky was honored.
Also on the academic front, quarterback Easton Stick was named one of seven finalists for a FCS Athletic Directors Association $5,000 post-graduate scholarship.
Frisco, NCAA renew contract
The marriage between Frisco and the Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title game will remain strong for years to come. The NCAA announced on Friday it has agreed to a five-year contract with an option for a sixth year that will keep the game at Toyota Stadium at least through the 2024 season.
The game is hosted by the Southland Conference and Hunt Sports Ventures.
NDSU has set up shop in Frisco in recent years. The Bison will be gunning for their seventh title in eight years. Since Frisco first started hosting the title game in 2010, the game has averaged about 19,000 fans.
“The FCS community has become family to Frisco,” Frisco mayor Jeff Cheney said in a statement. “That’s why it was important to the Frisco City Council to reinvest in Toyota Stadium in the form of improved locker rooms, seating, video boards and media accommodations. This game is estimated to have a regional economic impact of more than $8.1 million. But just as important, it helps promote our brand as Sports City, U.S.A.”
Tiuli’s game status remains unknown
Eastern Washington senior defensive lineman Jay-Tee Tiuli is listed as a starter on the Eagles depth chart, but it was unknown as of Friday afternoon if the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year will play in Saturday’s championship game.
Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best said the university will decide whether Tiuli can play against NDSU. Tiuli was suspended for the FCS semifinals after being charged with a felony assault.
“We won’t know the status of Jay-Tee until (Friday) evening … so I will get wind of that probably early (Saturday). I may set my alarm very early to get that information before everybody else,” Best said. “I’m eagerly awaiting the news. I’m not pushing this back for any particular reason. … So I’m not hiding anything. And so when I get that information, I’ll disperse that information to whom we need to disperse that to.”
Tiuli has 38 tackles and four sacks in 13 games.
Best impressed with NDSU’s sustained success
Best is impressed with NDSU’s sustained success over the past eight seasons. The Bison have a chance to win their seventh FCS national crown in eight seasons Saturday with an 111-record since the start of the 2011 season.
“I think it’s the hardest thing to stay on top,” Best said. “Coach Klieman and company and coach (Craig) Bohl and company, that’s an impressive run they have. There’s no two ways about it. … It’s harder to stay on top when you are the top dog than it is get to the top once when you haven’t been the top dog. You can catch lightning in a bottle.”
Etc. etc. etc.
- Head strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer received a promotional title on Friday. He is now assistant athletic director for athletic performance. Kramer, who has been with NDSU since 2004, considered an offer to go with Chris Klieman to Kansas State but chose to remain in Fargo.
- Kansas State released a video showing players and coaches from the Wildcats encouraging the Bison to win another national title. Klieman is heading back.