That's a million-dollar question with a ton of different answers. But one of the key ingredients to the Bison's recipe of success is right there in the question.
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NDSU football is a developmental program. Yes, recruiting is all about getting talent to your program, which has been key in the Bison's ability to reload every year. But it's also about finding the right type of mentality.
Every high school recruit wants to play right away. But at NDSU, sometimes you have to buy into the program, play special teams for a couple of years before seeing significant playing time as a fourth-year junior or fifth-year senior.
“It takes toughness and togetherness with your teammates," NDSU senior offensive lineman Luke Bacon told HERO Sports. "You have to be able to lean on the older guys and learn from them because that’s a spot you’re hoping to take eventually. You have to be tough on the field and also tough-minded. You don’t know when your day is going to come, but you have to be ready for it.”
Bacon is a prime example of how NDSU reloads. While the Bison have plenty of multi-year starters on the 2018 roster, it also has a solid nucleus of upperclassmen who bided their time to earn starting roles.
Bacon, at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, rotated in some last year as a junior but didn't crack the starting lineup until this season. Guys like senior linebackers Levi Jordheim and Dan Marlette were special team guys all the way up until last year when they got into the defensive mix.
This is the case every season. Past guys who paid their dues before making an impact in the starting lineup as upperclassmen include Bryce Messner, Chris Board, MJ Stumpf, Pierre Gee-Tucker, Jesse Hinz, Esley Thorton and many more.
The Bison are able to recruit the type of personality that's willing to go from star player to role player for three, sometimes four years. It's a big adjustment and a challenge for some players.
“Especially with the younger guys right away," Bacon said. "That redshirt year is tough. They go from a highly-touted recruit from their hometown area and they go home and people ask them why aren't they playing yet. There’s just really good players in this program and you have to develop with coach (Jim) Kramer to get to a spot where you have an opportunity to play.”
Bacon is from Granville, N.D., a town of 269 people. He played 9-man football, so Bacon experienced an even bigger adjustment than some of his teammates. He spent one year as a redshirt and then three years as a backup.
Then as a senior, the lifelong Bison fan had his dream come true as a starter for NDSU. It was worth the wait.
Bacon will end his Bison career in the national championship, a game he watched on TV as a high schooler while hoping one day he'll experience it. He's gotten the chance to experience it a few times now, but Saturday it'll be as a starter in front of 30-plus friends and family making the trip down.
“When I committed to NDSU, I told my family I just want to be a part of one (national championship)," Bacon said. "Now we have a chance for four. It’s just been awesome.”
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