Kolpack: Bison tight end Ellefson a national champ off the field
Local Allstate insurance agency owner Fed Hage had just finished presenting North Dakota State tight end Ben Ellefson the “Good Works” trophy when a third grade elementary student shouted a championship statement.
“Raise the trophy Ben!” he said.
The kid had probably seen that on TV before, like on the stage at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. That’s where the Bison have accepted seven Division I FCS national title trophies in the last eight years.
This trophy was different.
As important as winning football games is to the fan base, what Bison players do out of sight, out of mind is more important to the kids they serve. Ellefson was honored for his dedication and commitment to the community, which on Thursday was at Robert Asp Elementary School in north Moorhead.
It’s safe to assume that for some of those kids, having Bison players in game jerseys visit, joke, play and work with them for an hour makes for a nice interruption of real life.
“Yeah, because some of our kids are going through really tough situations,” said Erika Engelking, assistant principal at Robert Asp. “But what I think is important is we teach our kids resiliency no matter what the situation they’re living in or what’s going on right now, and that there’s hope for the future and they can be in control of some of those things.”
Ellefson has been in control since the day he became a hot prospect in Hawley, Minn. Now a senior, he has yet to miss a game in his NDSU career that includes a list of honors a mile long.
There’s no requirement in his scholarship with Bison football that requires him to do community service. The NDSU coaches talk about it, and it seems to be a pretty easy sell to them.
On Thursday, fellow Bison players Garrett Malstrom, Derrek Tuszka and James Hendricks helped with a game of flag football on the Robert Asp grounds. It was hard to determine who was having the better time: the little kids or the big kids.
“Seeing their excitement is the most special part of it,” Ellefson said, referring to the little kids. “Sometimes you don’t think about it when you’re doing it but you look back to the last couple of years, having an impact and seeing those kids later, it’s pretty special because they remember you and they look up to you.”
He’s the second straight NDSU recipient of the “Good Works” award, which goes to just 22 players in all divisions of NCAA football. Hage presented Easton Stick the award last year when Stick was volunteering at the Sanford Children’s Hospital.
There’s much more to Ellefson’s resume than working with the Robert Asp kids. He’s read books to classrooms, helped with food drives and visited hospitals.
“They’re not out there trying to do it in the public’s eye,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz. “A lot of his efforts have been behind the scenes where it’s him and the organization he’s helping. He’s not trying to draw extra attention to himself, but just knowing it’s the right thing to do and trying to be a positive influence.
Last spring break, Ellefson and a few other Bison players flew to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. They hung out with kids, helped build walls and prayed with locals.
“It was pretty eye-opening to see some of these people in those villages and how they live,” Ellefson said.
The namesake of the elementary school in Moorhead would like nothing better. Robert Asp built the replica ship Hjemkomst, which was later sailed by his three sons and daughter from Duluth, Minn., to Norway in 1982 in memory of their late father.
It was an uncommon feat. It’s exactly what you have with these Bison football teams. Not only do they win at an NCAA football historic pace, they do it with humble and giving players.