By Kyle Roth
College Sports Journal
FRISCO, TX. —Amat Victoria Curam.
“Victory Loves Preparation.”
It’s one of the recurring motifs of the recent Jason Statham action-flicks, The Mechanic, and it has every bit as much pertinence to the sport of football as it does to being a hit man-for-hire.
It’s the ability of coaches to turn an assembly of talented young athletes into a team, and the one who prepares best will be the one walking away with the Football Championship Subdivision Championship trophy on Saturday.
As of the turn of the decade into 2012, the North Dakota State Bison have gone over 21 years since winning their last championship in 1990, the end of a decade that saw the new Thundering Herd of FCS — no, we’re not talking about Marshall here — win four national championships in seven finals appearances over a nine-year span.
On Saturday, the 2011-12 NDSU squad will try the program’s ninth national championship against the undefeated Sam Houston State Bearkats after a three-week layoff, with the weight of that championship tradition pushing at the backs of the young men taking the field.
It would be the first title at the NCAA Division I level, however. NDSU landed at the Football Championship Subdivision level in 2008 after a four-year transition from Division II.
The sold-out game will be played at Pizza Hut Park at noon.
For the Bison, helmed by ninth-year coach Craig Bohl, the preparation for a championship game isn’t any different than another game — despite the winter holidays that came a week after the team’s triumphant 35-7 drubbing of Georgia Southern in the national semifinals, the team remained in Fargo for film breakdown, meetings and light practices while their counterparts at SHSU were allowed to leave early for the holiday break.
Whether or not one method or the other of allowing players to focus is advantageous, time off versus time on, will be determined on Saturday.
Coach Bohl has drawn on his experiences as former Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive coordinator in formulating a regimen to prepare for the title game.
“My mentor is [former coach] Tom Osbourne from those years I was at Nebraska, and we really took part of his recipe, he kept our players around the Christmas holiday,” said Bohl in a Wednesday interview with Paul Allen of KFAN in Minneapolis, MN. “They lifted weights … they took a couple days off for conditioning, but we sprinkled in several days for practices and we maintained a really good focus.”
Coach Bohl said he believes that preparation is a multi-step process, and while some may see allowing just a three-day break for Christmas as stern, Bohl’s 10-1 record off bye weeks speaks for itself.
This season that includes a 2-0 mark that saw the Bison shut down both Big Ten opponent Minnesota and Colonial Athletic Association playoff opponent James Madison.
Against JMU, a school with a national championship pedigree of its own, the Bison perfectly schemed the option attack of the Dukes to hold them to just 86 yards on the ground, well short of JMU’s 222.5 yards-per-game average in that category.
“With three weeks off what you need to do, we feel like, is to make sure we’re fresh, but we have our focus, we have not lost our continuity and our timing,” said Bohl.
With the university, the city of Fargo, and the state of North Dakota abuzz with anticipation, Coach Bohl does feel that a certain amount of pre-game excitement needs to be contained.
“I sense a real sense of excitement [from the players.] I think they’ve worked extremely hard, they’re a confident football team, and they know they’ve got a big challenge at hand,” Bohl said of the team’s attitude in the week leading up to the championship game.
Bohl said he hopes that confidence stands out to Sam Houston State.
“When you get in these games you look at your opponent and you see great things, but they’re looking at us and seeing great things too. You don’t get here without being a really solid football team. There’s a real sense of excitement within our guys; we need to temper that — we gotta go out and really get ready to play come noon on Saturday.”
Both Coach Bohl and NDSU Athletic Director Gene Taylor expect big things from the Bison fan base as the team arrived in Frisco on Wednesday afternoon and headed straight for the practice fields.
Taylor is adamant in his belief that as many as ten thousand Bison fans will be present at FC Dallas Stadium to counter the perceived “home field advantage” that SHSU might enjoy.
Located in Huntsville, TX, the Bearkats’ campus lies just 207 miles from Frisco.
“This community has really embraced this football team,” Bohl said. “All three sellouts at the [Fargodome] were electric.”
As the players arrived in Frisco on Wednesday, Twitter and Facebook feeds began to light up with images of the trip that included pre-practice meals, in-flight movies, and the arrival at the newly-christened FC Dallas Stadium (formerly Pizza Hut Park) with a freshly painted “BISON” in the home end zone.
Even that won’t be all to document the trip.
The local newspaper, the Fargo Forum, has invited fans to submit documentations of the trip, from text-only stories of Frisco-bound adventure to photos of Bison fans crossing the state lines as they draw ever closer to the Dallas area.
All in all, these three weeks have been the longest of some Bison fans’ lives — even longer than the 21 years they’ve had to wait for another shot at a national title.
Amat Victoria Curam
Victory Loves Preparation.
No team in FCS has been better at it this season than North Dakota State.