Bison walk-ons play pivotal role on road to FCS titleFARGO — North Dakota State will take 70 players to Frisco, Texas, this week for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game. That includes several who probably have future hefty student loans to pay back.
By: Jeff Kolpack, Forum News Service
FARGO — North Dakota State will take 70 players to Frisco, Texas, this week for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game. That includes several who probably have future hefty student loans to pay back.
They’re called walk-on players and no team makes it this far without contributions from them. In the first few years of NDSU’s Division I era, the theory was not many North Dakota and Minnesota kids who signed on a full-ride scholarship would contribute much on the field.
It turns out unheralded regional kids who walk on to the team are also making a difference.
“NDSU is really good about bringing guys in who want to be close to home,” said defensive lineman Anthony LaVoy, from Mahnomen, Minn., whose cousin and linebacker Alex LaVoy also walked on. “Me and my cousin grew up on the Bison tradition our whole life. We weren’t offered out of high school, but we thought it’s close by, let’s give it a try.”
Anthony LaVoy spent his first year at Division II Bemidji State (Minn.) before transferring. He’s been a factor in the last two playoff games.
Starting right tackle Joe Haeg has been a factor all season. Receiver Nate Moody is fourth on the team in receptions with 18. Defensive linemen Brian Schaetz and Danny Luecke and fullback Derrick Lang have played major roles. Haeg and Luecke, a junior from Fargo South, will start in Saturday’s title game against Sam Houston State (Texas).
“You’re going to find some really good players there,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. “The list goes on and on. Beyond that, just to be able to practice like we need to practice, you need numbers out there. You need guys to be able to come in and contribute.”
Some walk-on players see the field, some don’t, but with 63 full scholarships — several of which are divided up — finding close to 100 players is vital.
“I just give so much credit to those guys for taking the leap of faith, taking a chance and trying to prove themselves at a program like NDSU,” said Bison quarterback Brock Jensen. “I can’t express my gratitude toward those guys enough for how thankful I am they chose to come here without any help.”
Most come to camp with a “preferred” walk-on status, meaning they were recruited in some fashion and they’re allowed to be part of the 90-man fall camp roster at the beginning of August. Once school begins, FCS teams are allowed to have as many players as they want.
Bohl said some walk-on players eventually earn scholarship money based on their contribution to the team.
“By and large, we’ve lived up to our end of that agreement,” Bohl said, “and by establishing that credibility, that’s allowed these other young men to see: ‘Hey, when coaches tell us I’m going to have an opportunity, the proof is in the pudding. These guys have done what they said they would.’”
Bohl said his walk-on philosophy dates back to his days as a player and assistant coach at the University of Nebraska. When Bohl was there, the point was to give an opportunity in a state of 1.6 million people for anybody to play for the Cornhuskers.
“And that walk-on program was the backbone of Nebraska football,” Bohl said. “Not to say we’re Nebraska football, but there are a lot of elements that we do within our program that coach Osborne did.”
And one of those elements is giving players in a sparsely populated state like North Dakota a chance at Division I football.
“At the same time, you have to come out and show them something,” Moody said. “For those guys who come in and don’t make a mark, it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. … But it’s so important for our program just with the scholarship issue. You only get 63 to fill 100 lockers. Having those guys on no money or even half contributing makes our program that much better.”