On Jan. 5, 2019, in Frisco, Texas, the North Dakota State University Bison football team continued one of the most dominating stretches ever accomplished in college athletics. After defeating the Eastern Washington Eagles 38 to 24, the Bison football team has won the Division 1 FCS championship seven out of eight years. It is not easy to ascend to the top of any sport at any level, and even more difficult to remain there over a period of time. Many books have been written and stories told on how to win a championship; how to scale the mountain; how to achieve greatness. Even more difficult is to sustain greatness; to maintain hunger; to repeat as king of the hill; to excel amidst the fans’ impossible expectations.
How has NDSU done this and what can we learn?
- Quarterback: Tactically, the Bison have had three quarterbacks play and lead at an extraordinarily high level; Brock Jensen for three years, Carson Wentz for two, and Easton Stick for three. Outstanding quarterback play does not ensure you will win championships, but in order to win championships you must have outstanding quarterback play. In your endeavors what are you doing to keep the “main thing” the “main thing”?
- Culture: It is a popular buzzword but it bears repeating. NDSU football has created a winning culture, in my opinion, with three key components: a legacy of serving others, an ongoing hunger, and a commitment to humility. It is one thing to have a winning season or a winning team, but a whole different leadership accomplishment to build a winning culture. The people make the culture and the culture makes the people.
- Legacy of serving others: The Bison have built a culture where they work and play to honor those who have built the program in the past. Currently, they don’t want the class of seniors to lose their last collegiate football game. So, the only option is to win the championship again. I am convinced when we place our job, our families, or our marriage in the context of what has been built in the past and what we want to leave for others it becomes more about others and less about me.
- Ongoing hunger: Competition fuels hunger. Character demands hunger.
- Humility: The goal is always bigger than my role. I take ownership for failure without blaming others and give credit away for success. I embrace the bigger story I have been invited to play a support part in.
- Dream big and think small: Never forget the joy and reward of the highlight moments and victories. But, don’t live for the highlights. Every day is an opportunity to win by doing the “little” things that when added together result in a “big” outcome. Every day, every decision, every action takes you somewhere. Be present in your conversations and tasks before you. Daily, offer your best.
My 10-year old daughter recently asked if I would sit on the couch next to her and hold her hand while she read a book. This column will be read by thousands of people, but success is when those closest to us love us the most. I’ve personally heard many Bison football players state that “faith and family will always rule over football” and they lived that way.
God bless you. See you next Sunday!