Kolpack: Gen. Wald gives Bison football program five stars
FARGO — As a retired Air Force general who still keeps a daily business schedule, the phone calls, emails and consultation requests must be numerous for Chuck Wald. Whether it’s something in Europe or any other part of the world, there is one item, however, that he does not miss on a daily basis, especially in the fall.
His Bison football team.
“I look at it every day,” he said.
He knows the program like he knew the U.S. forces that operated in 91 countries in Europe, Africa, Russia, Asia and the Middle East. That was his assignment before retiring from active duty in 2006.
On Saturday, Aug. 31, the former star North Dakota State receiver, who still holds a school record, will get a chance to see his alma mater in person. Wald will be part of the pregame ceremonies when the Bison play Butler University (Ind.) at Target Field in Minneapolis.
“It’s going to be interesting to see them play in a baseball stadium,” he said. “The Bison are pretty well-known. Everybody I know, knows I played there and sends me notes pretty religiously, usually after a championship. We have a pretty darn good name going there.”
Speaking of darn good names, Wald grew up in North Dakota surrounded by some great ones.
His high school basketball coach at Minot Ryan was former LSU head coach Dale Brown, with whom Wald stays in touch two to three times a week. Former Bison head coach Ron Erhardt, who went on to a head coaching career in the NFL, was at Ryan before taking an assistant position at NDSU.
This is where life got interesting for Wald as a high school recruit.
He had a scholarship to play football at Notre Dame when Erhardt came to the school one day and cornered Wald in the cafeteria.
“He said, ‘I know you’re thinking about Notre Dame, but I want you to go to NDSU,'” Wald said. “He asked me if I wanted to be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond. I said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to be a fish, but I will play at North Dakota State with you.”
So he shunned the Fighting Irish in favor of the Bison. His roommate was Joe Cichy, who is a member of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.
Perhaps the crowning individual moment came on Sept. 28, 1968, when he caught 13 passes against Northern Illinois. It still remains on top, tied with Chuck Wiest, who caught 13 against Minnesota State-Mankato in 2001.
The kicker, like every Bison team since 1968, is Wald played on a team that emphasized running the ball.
“We were just a running team; we’re still a running team,” he said. “I remember that game vividly, most of the catches.”
Afterward, Green Bay Packers scout Zeke Bratkowski talked to Wald and told him that he’ll get drafted in the top two or three rounds. He was taken in the 14th round by the Atlanta Falcons in 1970.
By then, and admitting the chances of making it in the NFL were “pretty slim,” his focus was already on a military career. He became a pilot in the Air Force and was a forward air controller in Vietnam in 1972 and 1973.
From there was a gradual ascension in rank until being promoted to general in 2003. Ironically, that’s when NDSU made the move to Division I athletics.
Wald asked about the question whether the Bison should move up to FBS in athletics. He seems to not be in favor of it because a bigger stadium would have to be built. And he’s not convinced the school would do any better than it is now anyway.
“It’s a great program, players from all over the country seem to aspire to go there,” he said. “The Fargodome is such a perfect venue for the level we’re playing at. There’s nothing better. It’s a great experience going to games and the people all feel a part of it. There’s this yellow line that goes from North Dakota to Frisco that’s well known. It’s just a good situation.”
As for the general’s assessment against Butler?
“We have a nice, new quarterback, a real talent there,” said Wald, referring to Trey Lance. “Jabril Cox is a real good player. It looks like the running back situation is pretty good and there is a really good defense. And some super linemen, a couple of preseason All-Americans (Zack Johnson and Dillon Radunz). I look at it every day; I read about it religiously.”