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Bison fans pack Pep Fest

North Dakota State University cheerleaders and the Gold Star Marching Band lead Bison fans in a cheer at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas on Friday, January 4, 2013. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

FRISCO, Texas - Even the personable Matt Veldman was left speechless on a brisk Friday night at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

"This is so cool," said the former North Dakota State tight end. "I'm not at a loss for words that much, but right now I am. I really do not know what to say."

Veldman spoke those words as thousands of fans poured into the minor league baseball stadium, the home of the Texas Rangers' Double-A affiliate.

Veldman started on last season's NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision title team. Veldman will be a fan at noon today when the Bison take the field at FC Dallas Stadium against Sam Houston State. NDSU is searching for a second consecutive national crown.

"It's cool seeing this from a different perspective," said Veldman, who signed a free-agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars after his last season with NDSU. "As a player last year, you couldn't see everything that went on outside of the stadium and the hotel."

Veldman started to see how vast the Bison fan base was on his way to Frisco. His flight from Jacksonville made a connection in the Atlanta airport. Veldman continued to see that fan support when he arrived in Frisco.

"I saw Bison fans in the Atlanta airport. I'm sitting there going, 'There are Bison fans in the Atlanta airport?' " Veldman said. "Our hotel is packed with Bison fans. You can't go anywhere without hearing a 'Go Bison' somewhere."

Warren Holloway and John Pike were among the other former Bison at Friday's pep fest who played on last year's national championship team. Like Veldman, both will miss playing in the title game, but are enjoying being fans.

"It's crazy to come into the parking lot and see thousands of cars, a whole bunch of buses and just a whole bunch of alumni. It's awesome," said Pike, who played safety last season. "To see this kind of turnout when we're about 17 hours away driving. It means a lot. It's almost like the Bison are just one big family of Fargo."

Holloway had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season, his final one with the Bison. When asked how hard it will be to watch the title game from the stands today, the former Bison wide receiver said that hinges on how the game is going.

"It depends on if it's going good or bad," said Holloway, who is from Houston. "If it's going good, it's going to be good to watch. If it's going bad, it's like, 'I can help them out a little bit.' It's alright. I have faith in them."

Holloway has enjoyed being able to enjoy Frisco in a way he couldn't last year as a player.

"We get off the plane, got straight to the hotel, straight to the stadium, straight back to Fargo," Holloway said. "I actually get to see the town."

Veldman has been in Jacksonville rehabbing his knee. He suffered the season-ending injury during this past NFL preseason.

"I can't even imagine what it's going to be like tomorrow, just tailgating and everything," Veldman said. "The craziest thing for me last year was getting off the bus and seeing the hundreds and hundreds of Bison fans lined up to cheer us on as we walked into the locker room. Stuff like that is going to be pretty cool to see."

Veldman is also cool with being a fan.

"I had my time," Veldman said. "It was time for me to move on. I will always have a piece of my heart for the Bison. I kind of want to put the pads on one more time."

More than 8,000 fans packed the stadium to watch an on-field program that was capped by a fireworks display.

Former Bison quarterback Arden Beachy, who played from 1989-93, was impressed with the scene.

"I can't believe it's grown to this level," said Beachy, standing in a roped off section for from Bison players. "There are more numbers, but there is still that passion they've had for Bison football before I was there and after."