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McGovern sees familiar sight at Cotton Bowl

FARGO — The bus carrying football players from the University of Missouri was pulling up to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in early January when the starting right guard noticed familiar school colors. Connor McGovern saw some North Dakota State fans walking into the game.

Leaving the field and heading into the locker room, he saw more of them.

“There were some Bison fans there who had really good tickets to the Cotton Bowl,” McGovern said. “That was cool to see.”

Those fans were most likely in Dallas a day before heading north a few suburbs to watch NDSU in the Division I FCS national title game in Frisco. McGovern also went to the game and watched the school from his hometown win its third championship in a row.

While in high school, McGovern was about a week from committing to NDSU before Missouri called and offered the Fargo Shanley graduate a scholarship. Both parties — NDSU and McGovern — have thrived since that day.

Already two weeks into spring football, he was moved to right tackle for his junior season. The Tigers have this week off as part of spring break, so McGovern took the opportunity to come back to Fargo. He only has about 20 to 25 days a year he can visit family and friends, he said.

That’s Division I football, although McGovern appears to be taking the commitment level to another stratosphere. As a backup during the 2012 season, he vowed he would win a starting job. Taking advantage of free time because Missouri wasn’t in a bowl game, he would spend the mornings at a gym, eat lunch and come back in the afternoons and work out some more.

“I did that like crazy,” he said. “Football. School. Working out. That’s all I do. There’s not a whole lot of time for anything else and when you’re at the level that you’re at, it’s about all you can do.”

Take those three elements, for a moment:

- School. Going into his fourth year, he could graduate in 3½ years if he pushed it next semester, he said. He plans on getting his degree a year from now in agricultural business management. He’s a Southeastern Conference all-academic selection.

- Working out. He left Shanley at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds. He’s now 310. Besides the normal Missouri offseason conditioning requirements, he helps out at a local Columbia, Mo., gym called CrossFit Fringe. He helps the club with power lifting while CrossFit trainers help him with his form.

- Football. McGovern won the right guard job in spring football a year ago and maintained his status all season starting all 13 games. The Tigers defeated Oklahoma State 41-31 in the Cotton Bowl before 72,690 fans to finish the season 12-2.

There was more to the season even after the last game. In early February, defensive end Michael Sam publically disclosed his sexual orientation and is currently attempting to become the NFL’s first openly gay player. It was a media storm that McGovern said caught the team by surprise.

“Everyone knew so it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “It didn’t change how we viewed him. We thought it was kind of weird how much media attention it did get because it wasn’t new to us. We were kind of confused why it blew up in the media like that.

There will be three weeks of spring football left when McGovern returns to Missouri. The adjustment from guard to tackle has been a process, he said, with more to come. It’s not like the Shanley days when a player could move from guard to tackle without much change.

“It’s dealing with whole different animals out there,” he said. “You have big, strong powerful guys on the inside that weigh a lot. Now you’re getting the fast, strong, powerful speed guys. It’s a whole another position.”

So, it’s another challenge. But so far, for a player who was a week away from committing to an FCS school, he’s met all of them.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.