D-II star Bentrim proud of BisonFARGO — Jeff Bentrim started for three national champion North Dakota State football teams in the 1980s, but his sense is the Bison have a different buzz these days.
By: Eric Peterson, The Dickinson Press
FARGO — Jeff Bentrim started for three national champion North Dakota State football teams in the 1980s, but his sense is the Bison have a different buzz these days.
Those 1980s crowns were of the NCAA Division II variety, and the Bison played their home games outdoors at Dacotah Field. NDSU is now a Division I Football Subdivision Championship program and playing inside the Fargodome.
“Quite frankly, we seemed boring compared to these guys,” Bentrim said with a laugh.
The Bison (13-1) play No. 1-ranked Sam Houston State (14-0) on Saturday in Frisco, Texas, for the FCS national title, which is NDSU’s first attempt at an FCS title.
“It would be probably the greatest championship for North Dakota State football if they could win in Frisco,” said Bentrim, who started in four national title games during his NDSU career.
Bentrim recently got a glimpse of how NDSU has evolved as a Division I football program.
NDSU wore its alternate yellow jerseys in a 35-7 victory against Georgia Southern in the national semifinals on Dec. 17, a game played before more than 18,000 fans at the Fargodome.
Bentrim was at the Georgia Southern game and saw the changes from when he orchestrated the Bison veer offense.
When Bentrim took the turf at Dacotah Field, he didn’t run through an inflatable helmet with his teammates as spotlights scanned the crowd.
The Bison didn’t have alternate jerseys, and the coaches had to monitor weather forecasts.
“Those gold uniforms, they look great,” Bentrim said. “They seem like they look real sleek, and we had these boring, old cotton jerseys. I don’t even know what fabric they were. They were pretty drab compared to how flashy they are now.”
Bentrim, who lives in Calgary, Alb., is one of the most decorated players in Bison history.
He earned the inaugural Harlon Hill Trophy in 1986, an award given to the top Division II player.
Bentrim led the Bison to a 47-5-1 record from 1983-86 in a decade that saw NDSU win four national crowns.
“I would like to think that we from the mid-80s contributed to the program to help move it along the evolutionary chain,” said Bentrim, a member of the Division II Football Hall of Fame.
Bentrim at first was skeptical of the move to Division I, which officially started on Aug. 28, 2004, when the Bison hosted Valparaiso. That was NDSU’s first D-I football game.
“I thought it was a bold, gutsy move to do,” said Bentrim, who is married with three daughters and works in medical sales. “I was a little hesitant to jump on board at first.”
That skepticism started to change after NDSU’s first Division I meeting against the University of Minnesota in 2006. The Gophers eked out a 10-9 victory at the Metrodome.
That performance made Bentrim a believer. He said he was “pleasantly surprised” that the Bison “seemed” like the better team in that game, even in defeat.
“It was such a new frontier for us,” Bentrim said. “I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Bentrim is impressed with how NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor and Bison head coach Craig Bohl have navigated the Bison through their early years in Division I.
Bohl was a defensive backs coach on the 1984 Bison team, which Bentrim helped lead to a D-II runner-up finish. NDSU lost 18-17 to Troy State on a last-second field goal in that title game.
“Gene Taylor and Craig Bohl and his staff, they’ve done an unbelievable job,” Bentrim said. “I’ve always been proud to be a Bison, but certainly very proud at this time and ready to cheer them on in Frisco.”
Peterson is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.