FRISCO, Texas-This is a moment that Greg Menard wanted all offseason, but not the circumstances he had hoped.
The North Dakota State senior defensive end pined for another shot at James Madison, which ended the Bison string of five consecutive NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision championships a season ago.
The All-American Menard got his rematch, but he will be watching from the sidelines. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first week of fall camp in August.
"All offseason all I thought about was James Madison," said Menard, who took his redshirt this season and will return next year for the Bison.
The Bison (13-1) and the Dukes (14-0) are scheduled to play at 11 a.m. Saturday at Toyota Stadium for the national championship. NDSU is trying to win its sixth FCS crown in seven years, while James Madison is trying to repeat as national champions.
"It's a little different knowing you're not going to play and seeing everyone else get ready mentally to play," Menard said. "It's been really bad, this whole winter camp that we've been working. Every day I kind of think about 'Man, I wish I could go out there.' I'm kind of getting to the point where I feel like 'Maybe I could,' but then I start remembering no I can't yet."
This is the third time the Bison have played for the national championship since Menard joined the program. He played as a true freshman in 2014, a season that ended with a 29-27 victory against Illinois State for the FCS title.
The 6-foot-2, 241-pound Menard was in sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt when the Bison arrived at the team hotel in Frisco early Wednesday afternoon.
"When I was a freshman, I was getting ready to play, but a lot of my classmates weren't so now I kind of got the other end of that experience," Menard said.
James Madison earned a 27-17 victory against the Bison in the FCS semifinals last season, ending NDSU's record-setting national championship streak. Menard was on the field for that loss, finishing with five tackles and a half sack.
Menard will be on the field Saturday, but it won't be in pads and a helmet.
"It's tough, but I have faith in (my team)," Menard said.
Menard said recovery for his knee injury is progressing.
"I'm pretty good," Menard said. "I'm able to do a lot of sprinting, I'm starting to do a lot of side-to-side motion and stuff like that. I feel like it's coming along really well."
Menard has talked with both senior linebacker Nick DeLuca and senior defensive Nate Tanguay about dealing with season-ended injuries. Both DeLuca and Tanguay got injured last fall and missed part of the regular season and the entire playoffs.
Their message to Menard is to use the injury as motivation and come back strong next season.
"That's what I've been trying to do," Menard said. "In the weight room, (I'm) thinking about the pain of not being able to play and use that to keep on getting better as much as I can."
Menard is an accomplished pass rusher who led the Bison with 11 sacks last season. He's drawn motivation from watching the Bison defense have a strong season, limiting opponents to 11.5 points per game.
"It's fun to watch them out there and play with heart," Menard said. "It's inspiring seeing people fly around the field. It makes you want to come back and play with those guys, seeing them play as hard as they do and just flying around to the football."
While disappointed he can't play, Menard is ready for Saturday.
"It's going to be really exciting," he said. "I'm really excited to watch this game and I think everyone is excited to play in it. It's the two best teams and so I hope it goes our way."