Schnepf: NDSU AD sees wild scene on Bison side this time
FRISCO, Texas - It was January of 2012 here in Frisco when Matt Larsen was first exposed to North Dakota State football.
“I was totally caught off guard,” said Larsen, who as an assistant athletic director at Stony Brook University (N.Y.) was attending the NCAA Division I FCS national title game.
Larsen was referring to the 15,000 NDSU fans who watched their Bison win their first FCS championship over Sam Houston State. Little did Larsen know at the time that he would be back in Frisco this week as NDSU’s athletic director.
“I remember we (Stony Brook) lost at Sam Houston State that year in the second round,” Larsen recalled. “Sam Houston had a great crowd. I thought for sure with them being just a couple hours down the road from Frisco that they would have a great presence here. Then you get here and all you see is all that green and gold. You were really blown away.”
Larsen, who has been NDSU’s athletic director for the last three months, was nearly blown away – literally – this week in Frisco while watching NDSU practice in preparation for Saturday’s FCS title game against Illinois State. He endured the 35 mph winds and 30-degree temperatures during a Wednesday practice.
“Wow, it was cold,” Larsen said. “After that, I became much more impressed … our guys went about their business. No excuses. Our guys came to work. It’s not a matter of just being happy to be here. I’ve seen a good balance of really being able to enjoy all of this but also understanding that they have a job to do and that is to win this national championship.”
A fourth straight national championship, which would be a first in FCS history.
Not many people get a chance to take over an athletic program that has created such a dynasty. The 40-year-old Larsen, who wasn’t even looking for a new job when Gene Taylor stepped down as athletic director last summer, knows how lucky he is. Especially after three months of watching countless football practices, talking football with head coach Chris Klieman and taking every chance he can get to chat with the players.
That’s what Larsen calls the fun part of his new job.
“I like to get out there a lot,” said Larsen, a former college football player. “I like to watch our coaches coach. And I like to watch our guys compete.”
Klieman and his players have certainly appreciated Larsen’s appearances – be it at practice or on the sidelines during the games. If you’re watching Saturday’s game on ESPN2, you’ll probably spot Larsen pacing back and forth near the bench.
“Matt has been awesome,” Klieman said. “He has been so fun to work with. He understands football because he was a football player. I’ve really enjoyed our journey so far. We are just scratching the first surface with our relationship. I’m excited for Matt to be here as well. I have nothing but high praise for Matt.”
Christian Dudzik, one of 16 seniors who will be playing their final collegiate games Saturday, was part of the search committee that recommended Larsen for the job. He was impressed then and impressed when he showed up for that cold practice.
“It just shows you that he cares,” Dudzik said. “Our players see that and our coaches see that. You can tell that he cares about us. Not just as players but as people too.”
Larsen spent 19 years at Stony Brook – where he helped the program transition from Division II to Division I. The football team eventually made two playoff appearances and the basketball team played in one NIT tournament. But nothing was more exciting for Larsen than when the Stony Brook baseball team advanced to the College World Series in Omaha in 2012.
Stony Brook won two out of three games over perennial power Louisiana State to win the super regional and advance to the World Series.
“I remember standing on the field at LSU – which is probably the hardest place in college baseball to play,” Larsen recalled. “The euphoria … it was almost an out-of-body experience in the sense that we’ve done it, we’ve gotten there. For our guys at Stony Brook who don’t get that all of the time, to get the opportunity to be in the spotlight and to be kind of America’s darling for that two-week period was pretty neat.”
There was the element of experiencing something for the very first time. And even though this is Larsen’s first time in Frisco as an athletic director with a football team playing, he knows there is a big difference between the Stony Brook baseball experience and the Bison football experience in which players like Kyle Emanuel tell reporters that “we may not be the most talented team, but the collection of our parts is why we are here.”
“Anytime you have a championship team, I think this is what the recipe is for it,” Larsen said. “It’s a unique culture here at NDSU. It really is. It makes sense why we have been so successful.”