Bison dipping into Mason Miller's untapped potential out of Ada-Borup
There's plenty of competition to replace Cordell Volson at right tackle.
FARGO — Mason Miller wasn’t the first football player to step on the North Dakota State campus and look more like a basketball recruit. Over the years, the Bison have made a lucrative living with offensive linemen who weigh in the neighborhood of 240 pounds and turning them into starters.
In the case of a few players, turning them into NFL prospects. Miller has a ways to go before reaching the level of being scouted, but he’s not that far off from becoming a starter with the Bison. He’s no longer that 6-foot-6, 245-pound freshman who was 225 pounds when he led Ada-Borup to a Minnesota Class A state basketball semifinal appearance.
He’s 293 and on his way, he hopes, to 300 by the time the Bison open their season Sept. 3 against Drake University.
“Those are the guys you want, they’re athletic to start with,” said Jim Kramer, NDSU’s head strength and conditioning coach.
Chalk Miller’s development to another success story with Kramer. He took offensive linemen like Joe Haeg and Landon Lechler from basketball-looking guys out of high school to NFL-looking players.
“They have untapped potential who see a great opportunity,” Kramer said. “On top of that, they have a lot of desire. They weren’t recruited by someone higher.”
In Miller’s case, he had extremely untapped potential. He was never in any kind of weight training system in high school and when he got to NDSU, started from the most basic baby steps of lifting weights.
It didn’t help that his true freshman season was 2020 when the Bison were pretty much shut down from full-time operations because of the pandemic. Players were divided into groups and Miller worked with assistant strength and conditioning coach Eric Perkins for the first month.
“You spend the first two months just doing technique stuff, we were barely doing the bar,” Miller said. “It’s all technique right away. With Kramer, it was the first specific developmental stuff that I had ever done. I really think once I got into that, I took off with gaining weight and gaining strength.”
It hasn’t been easy. Kramer said there were times of struggles. There’s a part of Miller that still feels like he’s behind in his development because of the pandemic issues.
“He works his tail off,” Kramer said. “He’s cut from the same cloth of every good offensive lineman we’ve had come through here. You name it, same blue-collar work ethic. We give them stories of what those guys have done.”
Miller said departed starting right tackle Cordell Volson told him to spend more time at the dining center than anywhere else his freshman year. The nutrition end of it is as much technique as lifting weights.
A typical day this spring is a six- or seven-egg omelet in the morning, three or four plates of whatever is for lunch and the same three to four plates at dinner. Going from 245 pounds to 293 is one hurdle; going from 293 to 300 is another level, especially with spring practice in full throttle.
“It’s a different beast,” Miller said. “You’re already eating all those calories to stay at 293 and now to gain that extra pounds. You have to do it healthy, too. You can’t do it eating junk food and cupcakes and bonbons from the gas station.”
Adding fuel to the method: there’s plenty of competition in the Bison offensive line. NDSU will return nine of its top 10 offensive linemen from last season’s 14-1 national championship season.
Miller has played 20 career games and will still have three years of eligibility remaining. He started in the quarterfinal playoff game in the spring of 2021 at Sam Houston, but that doesn’t necessarily make him the slam-dunk heir apparent to Volson.
Junior Jake Rock and senior Jalen Sundell have been working in the mix at tackle, with Sundell, the starting center, getting a look with his versatility.
“I’m the youngest of those three,” Miller said. “To be competitive in that group is good for me and for me pushing them makes them better. I need to keep pushing in the weight room, I’m nowhere where I need to be to start at that position. In the next five, six months, I’m going to do as much as I can.”