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Busy Bison: NDSU players balance finals week with big game preparation

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FARGO -- It was about this time last year when North Dakota State defensive back Marcus Williams came to practice missing something important to athletes in the hunt for a national title: sleep.

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It's not uncommon this week with final exams. But that's not all, either. On the heels of playing Georgia Southern tonight for a berth in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game, many players have had to deal with injury treatments, studying, ticket requests, position meetings, media interviews, film study of GSU and, of course, practice.

If you thought preparing for the Eagles' complex triple option offense was tough, try adding in everything else.

"It's a tough week, but we have a lot of veteran kids, a lot of resilient kids," said Bison defensive coordinator Chris Klieman. "They'll get through it and they'll be ready to go come (tonight)."

The coaching staff adjusted practice schedules throughout the week to accommodate as many players as possible.

"We take it up a notch in the playoffs, but it's not too bad," said linebacker Travis Beck. "You have to find time somewhere, whether it's staying up late or what. But you get it done."

Receiver Ryan Smith, on his Twitter account, said earlier this week "can't wait to sleep tonight so my brain can rest."

Another player, punter Ben LeCompte, tweeted he was at the library until the middle of the night.

"But I think everybody will be rested up enough and ready to go by kickoff," Beck said.

That is true, said offensive lineman Billy Turner, who doesn't appear to get stressed out by anything. He said most players have their finals at the beginning of the week, so there's enough time to focus on the other details of a semifinal game.

"There's obviously a lot of commotion that goes on," Turner said, "especially around this time, but a lot of guys are handling it really well."

Studying for the GSU triple option is a definition of commotion, especially for a program like NDSU that doesn't see it very often. It was worse before last year's semifinal game against the Eagles because it was so new to the Bison.

At least this week, the Bison have the benefit of having prepared for Wofford College's triple option last week, plus the GSU experience last year.

"We were brand new with this as a defensive staff," Klieman said of a year ago. "This year, at least we have some familiarity, what worked and what didn't work, as well as the terminology."

Perhaps nobody is more versed in the rigmarole of studying football and school than quarterback Brock Jensen, who not only has to deal with his physical and health education major but the Georgia Southern defense as well. Both require as much time as he can find.

"It's part of being a student-athlete, being able to manage your time," Jensen said. "You have a lot on your plate, and it's something you only get to do for a certain amount of time in your life. Even though it can be hard sometimes, you have to cherish it and do your best."

The key, Jensen said, is to focus on each task at hand. He had an academic presentation on Thursday, but said he's had enough time to study the Georgia Southern defense throughout the week.

"We're a student first, sometimes it can be tough to remember," he said, "but we just have to take it day by day and preparation this week has been good."

Head coach Craig Bohl said last year's team grade-point average was the highest he's had in his 10 years at the school. NDSU's academic progress rate (APR) was the highest of anybody in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2010-11, the latest year statistics for the indicator of graduation rates are available.

"They do a good job of multi-tasking," he said of his players. "When they're focused on academics, they need to be locked in. And when it's time to come over to the dome, they need to be locked in on what the coaches are talking about. It's a tough challenge, but our guys have done it well."

Kolpack is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications.

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