Braylon Henderson’s first encounter with North Dakota State football was while the Bisons were trekking to the FCS National Championship in Frisco, Texas each January.
Henderson attended Plano East High School, less than 25 miles from Toyota Stadium. He remembers watching NDSU win title after title on TV and seeing Bison fans everywhere he went that weekend. Wide With his receiver recruiting and his NDSU coaching his staff connected, the lure of winning championships and the opportunity to basically play closer to home every year, Henderson has been playing his ball in college. Because of this, I started heading north.
“On my official visit, I saw all the coaches and facilities, but what impressed me most was all those rings,” said Henderson, now a junior. “They had this box full of rings. It was really exciting to see.
Winning a national title as a recruit was a common theme to talk to players from NDSU and South Dakota State just days before the two rivals met in the FCS Championship.
For NDSU recruits, it was to help continue a modern dynasty that currently holds nine FCS trophies. For the SDSU recruit, it was all about continuing to close the gap with Bison and bringing home his first FCS title in the program.
Jackson Janke recalls sitting in the SDSU coaching office with his twin brother, Jadon, talking to linebacker coach and now defensive coordinator Jimmy Rodgers. He has two reasons why Jackson remembers the conversation. Rodgers told the brothers that he sees them leading Jackrabbit to a national championship as outstanding linebackers, and of course Jaxon and Jadon are now his two go-to seniors at SDSU. Wide He is a receiver, a position he wanted to play in college. And while they arrived at SDSU as receivers, Jaxon laughs at his memory of not only being pitched as a linebacker, but believing in the national championship side of the pitch.
“At the time, they were still a powerhouse, but they were finishing early in the playoffs every year,” Jackson said. “Coming from Madison, South Dakota, we brought in three high school football championships, so we were used to winning, and that’s the culture we wanted to continue here. I was sure I could do it here, and my dad even told Stig to prepare me for some national titles.”
Jankes was part of our 2018 recruiting class. SDSU reached his first FCS semi-final in the 2017 season. It was a year after the first quarterfinals in the history of the program. Jax went from 2012 to 2015 where he was out in the first round or he was in the second. SDSU is back in the 2018 semi-finals following their 2017 semi-finals.
The program was making progress, but its playoff losses were lopsided.The 2019 season saw a setback, not helped by injuries, including a second-round home loss to Northern Iowa.
SDSU then reached a new level, reaching their first FCS title game in the Spring 2021 season, losing a 23-21 heartbreaker to Sam Houston in the last minute. The Jax reached the semifinals last fall after losing to Montana State. And now they’re back in Frisco for his championship match against NDSU. NDSU is his three-game winning streak since the spring season.
Lifting the first FCS Trophy also meant SDSU defeated NDSU in the playoffs for the first time. According to the odds and most game predictions, Jax likes to do that. But NDSU has him 9-0 in Frisco.
SDSU was happy with a deep playoff run. Starting with some of the current upperclassmen, expectations changed.
“[Former SDSU offensive line coach Jason Eck] Mason McCormick, Senior OL at SDSU, shares memories of hiring. “It was certainly a thought, but I’m not sure how real it was at the time. It’s really nice to see how our program is progressing and how this is our current expectation.” It’s a national championship or a bust for us.”
Meanwhile, NDSU continues to raise its own seemingly impossible standards.
The first was the FCS three-peat from 2011-2013 under the staff of Craig Bohl. Some thought it would end there, but Chris Klieman said he changed to 5 peat in 2014 and 2015. After losing to JMU in the 2016 semi-finals, Bison went from 2017 to 2019. In the 2019 ring he achieved a 3-peat. Comes Matt Entz in his first year as head coach.
After losing in the Spring 2021 quarterfinals at SHSU, Bison won his ninth FCS title last fall.
All these trophies and rings bring extraordinary expectations. But it’s that expectation that helps sell recruits.
“[National championships were] NDSU senior running back Kobe Johnson said. “What they wanted me to understand was that if I came here, I was expected to win. And I accepted the challenge. I accepted it. And , I enjoy it.”