Bison safety’s family moves from Florida to Fargo to capture his senior season

FARGO — The ground-level apartment just off of Interstate 29 is now home for Leo and Fel Dempsey and it doesn’t take long to figure out why they made the move from Lakeland, Fla. to Fargo this summer. Pictures of their only child are scattered throughout the living room and kitchen, from old school and football photos to memorabilia that pay homage to No. 3.
That would be the jersey number of North Dakota State senior safety and team co-captain Tre Dempsey.
The parents had enough of following Tre on the radio app, TV, internet or the occasional flight to Fargo the last three years so they did something about it. They packed up and brought the house to Fargo.
It was a decision that didn’t come without its struggles. Fel first introduced the idea last year, but Leo said he wasn’t immediately in favor. Both were lifelong Florida residents, after all, and leaving friends and family behind seemed a bit too much.
Tre also had his doubts. It’s one thing to talk about it but it’s another to actually load the car and drive 32 hours to a new home.
“I’m like, whatever, they’re not coming,” Tre said.
Spiritual in nature — Leo is a pastor — they turned to prayer to for the final call.
“Once the Lord gave me peace, everything fell into place,” Leo said. “Tre’s dream has come true. My wife’s dream has come true. My dream has come true.”
The trip north provided some sight-seeing benefits, like driving through the mountains of Tennessee — something they saw for the first time. Fel had flown to Fargo for some of Tre’s games over the years, but it was a first for Leo to see the landscape his son calls home for college.
Both just short of 50 years old, it was like they were kids going off to a college adventure themselves.
“There was nothing holding us back,” Leo said. “It kind of shocked me at first to see him go to North Dakota for school. I always told him my schedule wouldn’t allow me to be at games, but I didn’t know it was this far.”
NDSU and Coastal Carolina were the two finalists to sign Tre to a letter of intent and Leo thought he was headed to Coastal. But NDSU won out, and four years later, the entire family is living in Fargo.
It didn’t take long for the parents to get jobs. Fel, a paraprofessional educator at Lakeland High School, got the same job at Fargo North High School. She loves the smaller class sizes, which are about half of what they were in Lakeland.
Leo works for the city of Fargo and also works in what he calls the “street ministry.” It was something he was also doing in Lakeland.
“I left the building about two years ago,” he said of the church, “and didn’t fully understand why. But now I understand why. The Lord is up to something greater and it got me right here to North Dakota.”
All three make it work with one car. Fel drops Leo off at work in the morning, picks up Tre at his apartment who then drops his mom off at North. After school at North, Fel walks the two blocks to the Fargodome parking lot, gets the car while Tre, later, gets a ride home from a teammate after practice.
“I’m happy to have them up here, I’m glad they can experience my senior year,” Tre said. “People in Fargo — the fans, Bison nation — have showed me a lot of love and I’m glad they get to see it and it’s something to be proud of.”
There’s more than football to the decision, too. Tre is set to graduate in December with a major in philosophy and a minor in business. A college degree is something his parents didn’t get to experience and Tre calls it a “milestone” for his family. Fel did pass the necessary tests to be a para educator.
“Education first,” Leo said with a smile. “I’m pretty sure mom is very happy about that.”
It remains to be seen how the weather will treat them. Tre laughs at the thought. It’s possible, once the NDSU season is complete, that he could be somewhere training for the NFL Draft while his mom and dad are in Fargo.
“Yeah, I’ll be praying for them,” he said.
But weather is also a relative situation. The Dempseys left Florida behind in July. Last week, Hurricane Irma hit Lakeland hard leaving their former neighborhood without power until earlier this week.
“So we left just in time,” Leo said. “The area we were living in got leveled.”
Before this year, Tre saw his parents at the most two to three times a year. Now it’s a routine. Football and school are two full-time jobs, but they make time on Sunday to hang out.
“The thing I missed was their guidance,” Tre said. “When I go over there, there are questions as a child to a parent that are on a deeper level of life that I get to talk to them face to face about. It helps me out and keeps me in the right direction and they give me that parent advice with love in it that you can’t get anywhere else.”