Area Football: It was a good football day in the BLA
For three former area student-athletes, Saturday was a crowning moment.
For another, Saturday was a source of bragging rights and a career highlight.
And even though the seasons of the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota Gophers are done, Saturday was a good day to be a Brainerd lakes area football fan.
North Dakota State's 38-24 victory over Eastern Washington for the FCS National Championship Saturday, Jan. 5, in Frisco, Texas, concluded a perfect 15-0 season and secured NDSU's record seventh national title.
2016 Brainerd High School graduate and third-year offensive tackle, Josh Howieson, enjoyed the pandemonium that was another Bison victory.
"Bison Nation has an unbelievable fan base so everything about it was amazing," Howieson said. "The whole city traveled down to Frisco so it's unbelievable and surreal just to be a part of something so special."
Howieson didn't see game action, but was a key in the preparation processes. He still felt satisfaction after the victory.
"It's a lot of hard work and a lot of stuff that goes into it to get there so it's just the feeling of accomplishment," Howieson said. "It basically starts next week and we're already into it working toward next year. All that leading up to it, it's a great feeling to go out on top."
Noah Gindorff is a 2017 Crosby-Ironton graduate and a redshirt freshman who plays tight end for the Bison. He did see action on special teams and said blocking out all the distractions was paramount.
"It's definitely intimidating, but once you're out there it's just another football game," Gindorff said. "At practice, we get a lot of looks so once you get out there you're always prepared for whatever they're going to throw at you. It's not too different. You just have to drown out the noise and focus in on your part so it's not too bad."
As a redshirt Gindorff traveled with the team last year, but didn't dress. He said suiting up and seeing action made for a more memorable experience.
"It was crazy there," Gindorff said. "Our fans traveled really well to the game. It's a really cool place to play and the weather was awesome. It all just kind of came together. It really was a perfect day."
Verndale's 2018 graduate Samuel Moore is a redshirt defensive lineman who didn't dress, but did get television time.
"He did get a little bit of national TV time," Moore's father and Verndale assistant football coach Jeff Moore said. "He was walking right behind (NDSU head coach Chris) Klieman through the fan line. So they were videoing Klieman and Samuel was right behind him."
This was Klieman's final year at NDSU as he took a head coaching job at Kansas State. Howieson said that wasn't much of a distraction during the season nor during preparation for the title game.
Jeff Moore said despite the coaching change his son is still pleased with his decision to play at NDSU.
"Winning a national title and even with the coaching switch he's fine being there," Moore said. "He got scout player for the week a couple of times and the starting lineman would usually give him good words of praise for working hard and making them work. He felt some accomplishment in that way that he was helping the guys get better."
Howieson is ready to get back to work in preparation for two more seasons as a Bison. His future is uncertain, however, with a new line coach coming onto the staff.
"I'm just excited for spring ball and we'll go see what happens," he said.
Gindorff said tight ends/fullback coach Tyler Roehl will be back next season. He's excited about the continuity.
"We'll graduate one tight end in Nate Jenson, who is a really good player," Gindorff said. "So there will be snaps out there for the taking. We know our coaches will do a great job of getting us ready and we'll get after it during spring ball and fall camp. Whatever my role is next year, I'll own it and just do what I can."
One former Bison, Joe Haeg, was able to catch the first half-hour of the game, but then got busy himself. He checked Twitter updates while getting ready for work.
"Pregame meal was right at a half-hour after the game started," Haeg said. "Then I followed it on Twitter while I was getting ready for my game. I saw that they won, put the phone away and then got ready for our game."
The "our" is the Indianapolis Colts, who Haeg plays for as a third-year offensive lineman. Haeg and the Colts went on to defeat the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card Game Saturday, Jan. 5.
"We've obviously played there (Houston) a lot," Haeg said. "Honestly, I think it was a slight advantage to us because, especially when you're going up against a Houston defense where they do tons of different fronts and do a bunch of exotic stuff, having played them a lot we kind of know what they're doing and it slows the game down for us. Just having that experience against them helps. A road game is a road game. You're going to deal with the noise, but we just go out and stick with what we do."
The Colts' Andrew Luck threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns and running back Marlon Mack rushed for 148 yards and a score against the highly regarded Texans' defense. What was once considered Indy's biggest weakness, the offensive line has turned into an asset for the Colts.
"We got a lot of new faces in there and we just bought into having a more mean mentality," Haeg said. "That's just something that has developed. We have so much depth. Even back in OTAs (organized team activities) when we knew a lot of, or five or six guys, would end up getting cut, we had depth throughout. We had guys battling injuries during training camps so a lot of guys had to play multiple positions. That's really just kind of helped us out in the long run. It's not just the five guys who may be out there during that day, but a lot of guys behind them who have been stepping up and it's been a lot of fun."
Indianapolis started the season 1-5, but then won 9 of their last 10 games to make the playoffs. The perseverance and willingness to do whatever it took to win have been a staple to Haeg's entire football career. It's his best piece of advice to the current local Bison players.
"You just have to keep working," Haeg said. "You have to be coachable and you have to be willing to change your mindset. If you're in high school, the way you block in high school is usually a lot different from the way you block in college. Some guys kind of get stuck in a rut and think they need to continue to block the way they have been blocking, but you really have to strip yourself down and be coachable, listen to the coaches, get in the weight room and just really buy into what they're doing and you'll find success."
And Saturday in the Brainerd lakes area, success was plentiful.