Klieman doesn’t expect new kickoff fair catch rule to change Bison mindset

FARGO — The NCAA has changed its kickoff rules for this football season, allowing return teams to fair catch the ball anywhere inside the 25-yard line and have it count as a touchback. North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman doesn’t think the rule change will alter how his team approaches kick returns. Klieman wants to give players like Bison running back Ty Brooks and Bruce Anderson the chance to make big plays in the return game. “Right now our feeling is we’re going to play it off as normal,” Klieman said. “We’re not fair catching things (on the kickoff) at this point because I want the ball in Ty’s hands, I want the ball in Bruce’s hands.” The Bison open their season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, against Cal Poly at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. NDSU is the defending Division I FCS national champions. NDSU averaged 22.2 yards per return on kickoffs last season. Anderson averaged 24.1 yards on eight returns. Brooks averaged 28.7 yards on three returns. “My mindset and I know Bruce’s mindset is probably get as many yards as we can,” said Brooks, a junior and a Fargo South graduate. “I feel like every time we get the ball in our hands, we feel we have the opportunity to get past the 25. That’s probably a coach’s decision whether or not we’ll fair catch, but I know our mindset is take it out and get as many yards as we can.” Entering his senior season with the Bison, Anderson had two big kickoff returns for touchdowns during his true freshman season. He had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score in a 2015 second-round playoff victory against Montana. In the next playoff round, Anderson added a game-changing 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 23-13 quarterfinals victory against rival Northern Iowa. The Bison went on to win the national championship that season. “I look forward to kick returns and stuff like that,” Anderson said. “It’s another opportunity to make an electric play. … I love being on special teams. It’s another phase of the game where we get to dominate. I don’t look at special teams as a downfall or like another duty. I don’t shy away from it.” Klieman said there are situations where the new rule could be beneficial, for example, if there is a penalty on a point-after attempt, that leads to the team kicking off at midfield. Then the kicking team could use a high, short kickoff that doesn’t reach the end zone. “If there were a penalty after a point-after or something, they’re kicking it from midfield, I’d think you’d be silly not to use a fair catch,” Klieman said. Anderson said you have to be smart as a returner on kickoffs and specific scenarios could dictate using the new fair-catch rule. “If it’s kicked in a corner perhaps and the return calls for something different, it’s kind of hard to get back to that return,” Anderson said. “It’s situational. Whatever that situations calls for, if it calls for a catch, I’ll throw up the fair-catch signal.”