What does a Bison football coach do on weekends? Go pheasant hunting with players

North Dakota State offensive line coach AJ Blazek encourages the defense on fourth down against Southern Illinois at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale, Ill. on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — In a normal season, North Dakota State offensive line coach AJ Blazek would be spending Sunday reviewing tape from an October Saturday game and looking ahead to the following week’s opponent. In college football, virtually every day is already scheduled.

That routine has been postponed to February through April because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Blazek did something over the weekend that he probably thought he would never do in the fall.

He went hunting with a few Bison players.

“That’s stuff, and it has been with our players and families, that I’ve done more in the fall — you have to because it may never be that way again,” Blazek said. “Just getting creative with things to do to take my mind off of Saturdays when you’re not coaching.”

Behind the guidance of junior offensive lineman Cody Mauch, the group that included quarterback Zeb Noland, punter Garret Wagner and offensive tackle Jalen Sundell, drove to Mauch’s home area of Hankinson, N.D., in the southeastern corner of the state to hunt pheasants. Mauch graduated from Hankinson High School in 2017.


“He knows every plot of soil there,” Blazek said. “Cody is one of those guys that everybody likes whether you’re a country kid or a city kid. A lot of people make the trip.”

It’s about the only way Bison coaches can connect with their players these days. They’re currently in a strength and conditioning phase not unlike what they would be going through in a typical January and February or June and July.

It’s not unusual for a coach to have his position players over for dinner, or some similar type of activity.

Living the outdoors with them, however, is a bit unusual.

“I think you have to know your guys,” Blazek said. “Swing over and watch some ball, get out of the dorms, anything away from the office you can do with them. We implement them in my family life, getting them around my family and kids. It’s interesting how important that becomes to guys, more important than the 21-14 score at the end of the game will be five years down the line.”

Blazek said Noland and Mauch spend a lot of time hunting in the Hankinson area. He calls Sundell and Wagner big fishermen, which is more of his forte.

“I didn’t do very well,” Blazek said. “Zeb got himself a couple. They had fun. I got some shots off but I didn’t have a very good shot.”


Blazek grew up hunting in Iowa on his mother’s family land.

“But I’m not a big waterfowl guy because that’s always in the fall,” he said. “Zeb, that’s all he talked about yesterday was waterfowl and ducks. I’m definitely better at fishing than hunting.”

Last spring, Blazek went turkey hunting with Bison defensive lineman Dylan Evans, who is from Williston, N.D.

“Sitting and talking, that’s fun stuff,” Blazek said. “You would like to be playing right now, especially when you see other people playing. We drove to Hankinson. Zeb and Wags I don’t know real well because they’re not in my position group but we joked around a lot. I think you really get to know guys and where their minds are.”

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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