Bison football assistant Larson given reins to coveted offensive line job
North Dakota State relying on Dan Larson's extensive football experience to coach a badge-of-honor position group for the first time
FARGO — Dan Larson had never been an offensive coordinator before he became an offensive coordinator at Macalester College (Minn.). He had never been a head coach before he became a head coach at Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
This month, he moved from coaching the running backs at North Dakota State to being named the offensive line coach. He had never been an offensive line coach.
“You have to have faith and belief in yourself and earn it from the players once you’re in the room,” Larson said.
The offensive line room changed in the first week of January when assistant coach A.J. Blazek took a similar position at Wyoming. With the start of spring season practice not far away, Bison head coach Matt Entz opted to stay in-house, saying the offensive line position is too important to the program to try and bring a coach from the outside and try to groom him.
“We were not going to lose continuity in the offensive line room,” Entz said. “That position group more than any other in our program emulates everything that NDSU is about.”
Larson came to NDSU in 2019 from Eau Claire. The Bison set a school record for rushing yards in a season with 4,601 yards, a year where Larson worked closely with Blazek in the framework of the offense.
Before that, he worked with former Bison offensive line assistants Conor Riley and Scott Fuchs at NDSU summer camps. Riley is at Kansas State and Fuchs at the University of Buffalo.
“Coaching for 18 years, I’ve worked in almost every position group on offense,” Larson said. “So there are those challenges that you seek out. I’ve been really fortunate for the last two years working with coach Blazek and listening to him. I have a love and big respect for the Ram room. The guys before us and the coaches that were a part of it, personally, if that coaching carrot was going to be out there, if the opportunity came, I would jump at it.”
The Rams is the nickname given to the Bison offensive line.
“There’s something that’s always appealed to me with the offensive linemen mentality,” Larson said. “The only time people think of them is when something negative happens. It might be different up here, maybe there’s more of an appreciation for the Rams than in other places. It’s always appealed to me. It’s a fun group to coach.”
NDSU hired Minnesota State Mankato offensive coordinator Joe Beschorner to take Larson’s running backs job. He was named the Division II Coordinator of the Year after the Mavericks led the division in scoring at 47.5 points per game.
“He’s drinking out of a firehose right now,” Entz said of Beschorner. “Everyday there is something new. If you have any understanding of what we do offensively, the verbiage can blow you away … but he’s done a tremendous job of jumping in with both feet.”
In the NDSU offensive line, Larson is taking over a position that has been the staple of the eight FCS national titles in the last nine years. The Bison currently have three in the NFL with Joe Haeg at Tampa Bay and Billy Turner and Zack Johnson at Green Bay. Tight end Ben Ellefson is with Jacksonville.
Offensive tackle Dillon Radunz, at the Senior Bowl this week in Mobile, Ala., is expected to go somewhat high in the NFL Draft in April. Also gone from 2019 is Johnson and starting center Karson Schoening.
Only left guard Nash Jensen and left tackle Cordell Volson have extensive starting experience, with Volson moving from right tackle. With 19 games scheduled in this calendar year, Entz said going deep into the depth chart will be a priority.
How deep at the offensive line? There are 14 that could play in the opener on Feb. 21 against Youngstown State.
“If you can get to eight to 10 deep, you feel really good,” Larson said. “Our job this spring and fall is to push as much as we can, get any game reps out of anybody. The way it’s shaping up, we’re going to need somebody to jump in at some point and time no matter if they’re ready or not. The best case scenario is to use all of them. Realistically, eight to 10.”