Bison are a finely-tuned army away from home

FARGO — The number crunching of note with the North Dakota State football program began in 2011 when the Bison started their run of Division I FCS national championships. The trendy one is the streak against FBS opponents, which stands at six consecutive wins.
In order starting from the latest, it reads: Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Colorado State, Minnesota and Kansas. All, of course, were on the road.
It’s one thing to be good, it’s another to be able to do it at other stadiums that draw much bigger crowds than Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
But also in that span, the Bison have put together a road record that would seemingly be hard to top anywhere at any level in college football. Starting with the Gopher win in 2011, NDSU is 35-2 away from Fargo and is currently on a run of 11 straight heading into Saturday’s game at Indiana State.
“I think we embrace the challenge of going into some hostile environments with a us-against-the-world mentality, I think our kids get excited about it,” said Bison assistant coach Nick Goeser, who has been a part of the entire 35-2 streak. “I think it’s also a chance to get away from family and friends a little bit and the potential distractions that you have when being around the Fargodome or being at home. Where now you can go on the road where it’s just us, just the team, just the position group where we can focus on the task at hand.”
The focus has been obvious and the shining road record was accomplished in a variety of ways, from last-second field goals like the 37-yarder from Cam Pedersen that beat Iowa 23-21 to unexpected close game like the 21-17 win at Missouri State in 2012.
“It’s just ourselves and everybody out there to beat us,” Pedersen said. “I think we’re locked in all the time when we’re on the road. I’m not saying we’re not when we’re at home, but everything is football when we’re on the road. At the hotel, everybody is locked into their playbook and they know what they have to do when it comes time to do it.”
Of the recent 11-game unbeaten streak, there have been more close calls than not. The margin of victory was eight points or less in six of the games. The biggest blowout was probably one of the most unexpected when the Bison defeated Eastern Washington by 27 points last month.
“I just think it’s the focus, we do say it’s a business trip and the focus is always on point,” said linebacker Nick DeLuca. “The guys take everything real seriously when we go on the road and it’s proven itself.”
Nothing is wasted, especially time.
The Friday routine is only adjusted based on flight or bus time. For the most part, the team goes through a light walkthrough practice in the afternoon and then gets on two buses outside the Fargodome that takes them to Hector International Airport.
After checking through security, they fly to their destination and get on two more buses that take them to their hotel. The rest of the night is spent with dinner and team meetings.
“We get up in the morning, have a short walkthrough and maybe a last meeting and we’re rockin’ and rollin’,” Goeser said.
There’s more to the rockin’ and rollin’, of course. The entire operation is a finely-tuned army that makes every trip feel virtually the same.
“I think we have a lot of staff in place that have a hand in a lot of things,” said Hank Jacobs, NDSU’s director of football operations.
Water and sports drinks greet the players when they board the plane. It’s highly suggested by Jim Kramer, NDSU’s director of athletic performance, that the players finish them before landing for the purpose of hydration.
NDSU for years has chartered with Delta Air Lines, which employs the same flight attendant crew that wears Bison apparel.
“The kids get to know them over four years,” Jacobs said. “The coaches treat it as much as possible as a business trip wearing suits and we stay in three- or four-star hotels. Everything is detail-oriented. But nobody freaks out if something is not on time; it’s pretty relaxed.”
Players stay two to a hotel room and have the same road roommate all season. Kramer is responsible for the Friday and Saturday meals. It’s not fast food, either, with chicken, pork or steak for dinner.
“He’s working with hotel staff pretty much year-around,” Jacobs said.
After the game, the team has never had to wait for the team charter at the airport, Jacobs said. It’s right to the security checkpoint and onto the plane.
“When you see us out on the road, our kids are loose and relaxed but it’s not like there’s lot of goofin around,” Goeser said. “We get on the plane, we get on the bus and our kids have one task at hand and that’s to win that football game and when game is over we want to get home as soon as we can and get out of those environments and get back to where we’re more comfortable.”
In the last 37 road games, 35 of those have been happy return trips to Fargo. And in those 35 cases, the real treat awaits the players on the ride back: Ice cream bars.
“It’s a big deal,” Jacobs said.