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Healthy season, radio experience helped Bison WR Mathis with eligibility decision

Senior NDSU receiver Zach Mathis happy to be contributing this time of year, looking forward to next season

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North Dakota State wide receiver Zach Mathis is happy to be contributing this time of year and thanks to a radio internship is planning on returning another season.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — It was around 19 degrees on Tuesday when the University of Montana practiced outside in Missoula, Mont. An agriculture show prevented North Dakota State from using Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome for its workout, but the Bison had another option: Their new indoor practice facility. It was yet another upgrade from the indoor bubble NDSU would have used at this time last year.

The bubble over Dacotah Field wasn't much warmer at times than the outdoor temperature and the lighting was dim at best.

"The bubble lighting was awful," said NDSU receiver Zach Mathis with a grin.

Mathis was referring more to the modern amenities of the new indoor facility, which opened in October and will be fully completed next spring. The main football venue is up and running, however.

"It's a magnificent building," Mathis said. "It's a great facility and it keeps you warm, too, so that's always a big thing this time of the year."

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North Dakota State wide receiver Zach Mathis leaps to haul in a reception against Indiana State's Bilhal Kone at Memorial Stadium in Terra Haute, Indiana, on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Mathis, by the way, is enjoying playing at this time of the year. Saddled with injuries throughout his career, the senior has been a steady contributor in NDSU's 9-2 season and first-round bye in the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs.

He leads the team with 23 catches for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He played in 12 of 15 games in last year's national title season, missed the entire 2021 spring season and played in nine regular season games but missed the playoffs in 2019.

"It was pretty tough in the past because when you're watching, all you're thinking about is how bad you want to play," Mathis said.

Mathis said former Bison receiver Christian Watson, among other players, was a big support system in helping him mentally get through barriers of overcoming injuries.

"In regards to knowing if my knee was going to hold up, that definitely was a mental toll I had to battle through," Mathis said. "Definitely credit to my teammates and Christian was a big help too because he had knee injuries, too. He was a big help to me throughout my whole career and still is, we're still talking all the time."

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North Dakota State’s Zach Mathis jumps to receive a pass against Illinois State in their football game on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, at the Fargodome.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Mathis earlier this season made the decision to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will return next season. A journalism and psychology double major, he interned at the Bison 1660 AM radio station last summer as a production assistant and learned to become comfortable in front of a live microphone. He was a regular contributor on the station’s 11 a.m-1 p.m. "The Insiders" weekday show.

Expanding his academics and career options were other reasons for coming back in 2023. He’ll get his undergraduate degree in December but is open to doing another internship with 1660.

“I hope to be back there this summer,” Mathis said. “I had a ton of fun doing it, it was a lot of fun with those guys. It was cool to learn how it’s actually done.”

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Bison 1660 program director Andy Rieckhoff said Mathis picked up learning the on-air mixing board in quick fashion and also did updates and promos for Fox Sports Radio. Combined with his unique background of being an NDSU player from Tampa, Fla., who likes the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Steelers made for interesting conversation.

"He's got this eclectic-kind of sports taste which made it fun and interesting on the show and he's got good opinions," Rieckhoff said. "He's not afraid to come in and have some opinions as well which is rare for someone just starting out in radio. I think that is just part of being a college athlete and that personality just comes out naturally for him."

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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