Playoff loss doesn’t take away from DSU’s seasonLike it or not, the run had to end eventually.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Like it or not, the run had to end eventually.
Still, losing to No. 1-ranked Carroll College in the first round of the NAIA football playoffs wasn’t a bad way for the Dickinson State football team to go out.
In the grand scheme of the season, the loss can’t be viewed as disappointing. Sure, it wasn’t the end everyone wanted, but so what?
The Blue Hawks put up a fight and went farther than pretty much everybody — myself included — expected them to this season.
Now the task for DSU is making sure this season wasn’t a fluke defined by an incomparable winning streak. And they have the tools to make sure that happens.
Very few coaching staffs have the opportunity to take a turnaround season and use it as a jumping off point for the future of the program like Hank Biesiot and his guys do this offseason.
DSU will soon be home to one of the best stadiums in small college football. Although the Blue Hawks lose some big-time players — and yes, it’ll be difficult to replace guys like Brandon Bishop-Parise, Ryley McPeters and Kyle Pennington — a barrage of talent is expected to return next season and the underclassmen and redshirts are giving the team quite a bit of hope.
Yet, one elephant remains in the room after last Saturday’s loss.
If the Blue Hawks proved anything this season it was that they had heart, determination and swagger. They also proved all of that can only get you so far.
While resiliency can win you a conference championship, eventually you’re going to run into a team who is bigger, stronger and faster and has just as much heart, determination and swagger.
Don’t be ashamed DSU, Carroll is going to be tough to beat for just about any team in the NAIA. Heck, several NCAA Division II and Division I FCS teams would have trouble with the undefeated Saints.
Until coach Mike Van Diest decides he’s taken the Saints as far as he can and gets an offer he can’t refuse from a D-I school, the Blue Hawks may just have to face the fact that no matter how good they do, or how much of a roll they’re on, they’re eventually going to have to face the Saints in the playoffs.
So the question is, how do you get past Carroll?
Four of the five times DSU made the playoffs this decade, it has lost out to Carroll. The other three times, the Saints went on to win national championships.
After watching the game on TV, the difference in the two teams was clear: Carroll was just too big, too fast and too strong for the Blue Hawks.
What does DSU need to do to get to where Carroll is at? Well, for one, DSU needs to give Biesiot a few more bucks on his travelling budget so he can hit the road and bring in the type of recruits Carroll is getting.
This could be the perfect year for DSU to begin building toward becoming a team that’s once again able to go deep into the playoffs year in and year out.
With the Badlands Activities Center as a magnet and the DAC championship as the clincher, the Blue Hawks could steal some talent from schools like Black Hills State, Minot State, heck, even Carroll and the University of Mary.
And don’t let anyone fool you, the BAC is going to be an amazing recruiting tool. Take a look at Minnesota-Duluth of Division II’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Sure, its athletic department has some money and the football team gets its fair share — not unlike DSU. But the Bulldogs also have a benefit of a newly remodeled stadium. They’re 12-0 this year, in the national quarterfinals and just beat Chadron State in a home playoff game.
If DSU can get the talent, the next task is keeping them here and keeping them happy. Carroll, and schools like it in every division, does this by winning.
Take, as an extreme example, New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel and the time he spent at the University of Southern California.
Cassell was a career backup to Heisman trophy winner Matt Leinert at USC, even though it is likely that if he would have transferred elsewhere, he would have been a starter and probably still made it in the NFL. But, if he would have left USC, Cassel may not have been a winner.
Instead, he stuck around because he was happy where he was. This is the same for most players who are part of winning programs like USC or Carroll. If you like the guys and you like to win, even if you don’t get a ton of playing time, you’re probably going to stay and take the chance to win some sort of a title rather than leaving to become a star for a second-tier team.
If DSU can get guys to stick around for four or five years, it’s going to climb back up to the top of the ladder.
And it shouldn’t be much of a problem. Historically, Biesiot and his staff have always done a fine job — better than most — at getting the best of out their players.
The worst thing that could happen to DSU in the next few years is have one or more recruiting classes like the one that came to DSU in 2003. That year, the Blue Hawks pulled in tons of talent — 40 or so players were recruited — but for whatever reason, over the years around 75 percent of the class left the school or quit the team. The group that stuck around wasn’t really rewarded for their efforts either. While they won a conference title as sophomores, they were seniors last year when DSU went 3-7 — its first losing season since the 70s.
According to DSU coaches, this year’s redshirt freshmen class is one of the most talented in recent memory. Not to mention the Blue Hawks put about five true freshmen and a dozen second-year guys on the field throughout the season and many of them become starters or solid role players. Keeping those guys around will be vital to DSU’s future success.
After one down season, Biesiot and his crew appear to have silenced their doubters.
If they continue to get this kind of an effort from their players and keep more of them coming, there’s no telling what the future will hold.
(Dustin Monke is the sports editor at The Dickinson Press and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com).More from around the web