Bison punter Koonce adds new role to his nationwide football experience

FARGO — Football has taken Jackson Koonce on a road trip to more places than he probably could have imagined. From his hometown of Oceanside, Calif., to Southern Methodist University (Texas) for a couple of years and then to North Dakota State, the country has been reduced in size in his book.
“Yeah, I’ve gotten to experience all of America,” Koonce said. “And that’s kind of the point of college, is to experience new things and I’ve gotten to see a bunch of new things.”
This season, on the field, he’s gotten to experience something else that is new: He’s the holder for extra points and field goals. Koonce was pressed into service when regular holder Cole Davis suffered a shoulder injury as the backup quarterback against Robert Morris (Pa.) last month.
Davis is making progress, Bison head coach Chris Klieman said, but isn’t at the point of returning to the lineup.
“He’s able to extend his arm and has full range of motion,” Klieman said, “but it’s his throwing shoulder. Time will tell.”
His absence as the holder hasn’t been noticeable, which is a good thing for Koonce. It’s been a flawless transition with a few big moments in the mix. And none was bigger than the overtime win at Youngstown State two weeks ago.
The Penguins didn’t score on their possession in overtime, giving the Bison a chance to win the game with any score. Three plays netted just six yards, so out came the field-goal unit of kicker Cam Pedersen, long snapper James Fisher and Koonce.
“Honestly, we got out there and it felt just like practice,” Koonce said. “Cam is a such a clutch guy. He makes the situation feel really calm and we practice that situation all the time, so when we got out there it felt right.”
On the sideline, they reviewed what to do if Youngstown head coach Bo Pelini called timeout right before the attempt, which in common football vernacular is called icing the kicker. And that’s what happened.
“When you get in a situation like Youngstown when it’s a high-pressure situation, we all kind of know what to do,” Koonce said. “Not sure if young guys know how to handle that, but all three of us have been doing it for awhile so we know the routine, the protocol and know how to do things right.”
The routine 36-yard field goal gave the Bison a 27-24 win.
Now comes Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 28, at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, which like Youngstown, presents another annual physical Missouri Valley Football Conference test.
Now a senior, Koonce is trying to slow life down and take it all in. He transferred to NDSU before last season and has been a staple of the special teams unit.
“I kind of look around, everything is the last time I do something,” he said. “It was my last homecoming game a few weeks ago. Now it’s my last few conference games and my last couple games in the dome. I’m just trying to focus on my craft, but it’s hard not to look beyond and be really appreciative of all that I’ve gotten to enjoy here.”
As the backup quarterback, Davis was always a threat for a fake. And Koonce?
“I’ve been trying to egg on the coaches,” he said with a laugh. “I played quarterback in peewee football, so I think I still got it.”