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A change of plan: DSU football alum Chapman carries college success into the weight room

Paul Chapman is the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of New Hampshire. (Courtesy Photo from Paul Chapman)

Paul Chapman came to Dickinson State University with a plan.

The Edmonton native would play football while getting a degree in biology, play in the Canadian Football League for a few years, then get his master's degree in marine biology in British Columbia. Thanks to heavy influence from his coaches and mentors, that plan changed.

Even before attending the school, DSU alumni played a large role in sculpting Chapman's new plan. They influenced him through high school in Canada, to college in North Dakota, all the way to New Hampshire.

"If it wasn't for the connections I made at DSU, the coaches, all the way through down to the players, I wouldn't be in New Hampshire right now," Chapman said. "I'd be back in Canada chasing killer whales."

At the University of New Hampshire, Chapman, 52, is the director of strength and conditioning. He is in charge of overseeing all 18 athletic teams and 600 athletes at the northeast school, a task as daunting as chasing whales. Although he has five assistants, Chapman doesn't spend his days behind a desk overseeing operations.

"I work directly with football and men's hockey," the said. "So I'm at all their games, their practices, do all their workouts, and then the other five guys do the other teams and they implement the programs I have for all those teams."

Chapman always had a love for football, but didn't expect to be involved with it once he stopped playing.

When he was young and playing junior league football for the Edmonton Wildcats, line coach Jerry Kushner saw potential in the offensive lineman. Kushner was a Blue Hawk in the late 1970s and early '80s under head coach Hank Biesiot and alongside CFL player Chris Walby. Kushner got in touch with both of them and together they convinced Chapman DSU was the place to be.

Chapman found success as a Blue Hawk. He put on the pads for the first time in the fall of 1986 and took his place on the offensive line. Between then and his graduation in the spring of 1990, he helped the team to three conference championships and playoff appearances, and earned All-American status from 1987-89.

As one of the best linemen in the country, he was picked in the fourth round of the 1999 CFL draft by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

So far his plan was right on track, all because his junior league line coach encouraged him to attend DSU. Kushner was one of the first people to coax Chapman down the path that led him to New England. Next was Dale Lennon.

Chapman played a few games with the Roughriders in 1990 but was cut three times which led him to move the next phase of his plan up a few years, so he enrolled at the University of North Dakota. In 1991 he signed with the Roughriders only to be cut again. The following year he was faced with a choice, sign with Edmonton or accept a full-time position as strength coach at UND.

Enter Lennon. Lennon was the defensive coordinator at Dickinson State in 1987. The next year he took the same position at UND.

"He was the main reason I became the strength coach," Chapman said. "Hank (Biesiot) took my football career and made it what it was, and Dale Lennon made my strength career what it is. At the time Dale was a D-coordinator at North Dakota and Roger Thomas gave me the position but it was Dale that convinced Roger that'd I'd do a great job."

Chapman chose to accept the position as director of strength and conditioning at UND. As he did at DSU, Chapman found great success in his role.

Between 1997 and 2001 he guided women's basketball to three NCAA Division II championships, men's hockey to two NCAA Division I championships, and football to one NCAA Division II championship, earning six rings in the process. He's trained Jim Kleinsasser, who was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. He worked with Brad Bombardir, who is now general manager of the Minnesota Wild. He even designed the weight room in the Engelstad Arena which was completed in 2001.

Chapman's next offer didn't come from a DSU alum, but a man he met while at North Dakota, Marty Scarano. Scarano called from UNH, where he is director of athletics. Chapman knew him through hockey back when Scarano was athletic director at Colorado College, a team North Dakota played often.

Once again, Chapman — and his young family — had a choice. Once again, he accepted.

"New Hampshire, they hadn't won a national championship in football or men's hockey. I said 'You know, I just finished winning six. I kind of want to do something different,'" Chapman said. "So 16 years later I'm sitting here."

While Chapman hasn't earned a ring yet, he's improved the schools programs. Upon arrival he designed a new weight room facility and provided structure to the training programs. The hockey team has appeared in the NCAA tournament 10 times since his arrival in 2002, and the football team has made a tournament appearance every year since 2004. In 2013, the Wildcats football traveled to Fargo to face North Dakota State. Chapman came with them.

"I was kind of excited," Chapman said of returning to North Dakota. "At the time my record at the Fargodome was 3-0. When I was at North Dakota I'd never lost in the Fargodome. We got up real fast. We got up 14-0 on them, then Brock Jensen kind of took over and then we lost 52-14. I was able to get out there and it was great seeing a lot of old people."

Chapman's wife grew up in Dickinson so he returns every now and then. Even back in New Hampshire he still has the influence Dickinson coaches and players had on him.

"Being around Hank (Biesiot), Buddy Etzold, Dale Lennon, Leo Ringey. My success now is strictly on them," Chapman said. "I still to this day quote Hank Biesiot and quote Dale Lennon consistently."