FARGO—North Dakota State has implemented almost its entire game plan in advance of facing James Madison University of Virginia on Saturday for the Division I FCS national championship. That includes pinpointing the best bowler on the team.
Before trying to win the football game, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Michael Kelly will try to help the Bison win the bowling competition on Thursday night in the annual Great Texas Barbecue Bowl.
"Big 315-pound Mike Kelly," said senior defensive tackle Nate Tanguay.
It made for a light-hearted reference to former Bison great Phil Hansen, since both Hansen and Kelly are from Oakes, N.D. Kelly has an all-around athletic resume to him being a former North Dakota state champion wrestler and an all-state baseball player.
"The pride of Oakes is what we call him," Tanguay said of Kelly. "So Phil Hansen, sorry, but Mike Kelly."
The Barbecue Bowl is one of several events on the itinerary for both teams, who arrive in Frisco on Wednesday. It is so detailed that NDSU is scheduled to check in at its team hotel at 12:40 p.m.
Thursday is a media day of sorts with a team photo at Toyota Stadium and players being made available for comment after practice. A charity event for both teams called the "Miracle League Community Outreach Activity" will precede the barbecue.
"It does seem like you're all over the place when you're down there," Tanguay said.
He said the onus on keeping a proper balance between fun events and team focus is on the veteran players.
"It's 100 percent on the older guys to keep everybody straight," Tanguay said. "The barbecue is fun, relaxing, have a nice time but once we get to meetings and practice, now you have to lock in and do it right. I keep telling the guys you better be there early and I'm going to hold them to that."
Part of that directive came from head strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer.
"Coach Kramer said you better scare them to death to get to places early so we're not waiting on them," Tanguay said.
It will be the third trip in four years to the title game for seniors like Tanguay. NDSU defeated Illinois State in his freshman season and Jacksonville State (Ala.) a year later.
JMU ended NDSU's run of five straight titles in the semifinals last season.
"Most of the guys have been there so they know what to expect," said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. "We've gone through every day, what Wednesday will be like and what Thursday will be like and Friday and so on."