North Dakota State is headed into its sixth championship game in the last seven years. The Bison have made it to seven straight FCS semifinal appearances. To fans in Fargo (and for Bison fans nationwide) the championship game is an expectation at this point, not just a goal.
While the chance to play for a National Championship is obviously special in its own right, simply having the chance to play another football game is not a feat to be taken lightly.
North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman spoke to reporters in a teleconference Thursday ahead of the National Championship, and told HERO Sports that NDSU has talked all year about "enjoying the journey" and "embracing the target and getting everybody's best shot."
And while he acknowledged the national spotlight of a championship run can sometimes be stressful to a young student-athlete, the players need to take some time to enjoy the ride.
"We've mentioned a lot as a coaching staff to the guys that this is the best time of your life," he said. "Enjoy the journey."
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As Klieman said, the success NDSU has enjoyed has not only brought a few (OK, more than a few) championship trophies back to Fargo this decade, it's also given the players on the run a unique opportunity to just play football, and a lot of football.
"We've had a number of our fifth-year seniors that are going to play in probably somewhere in their mid 50s for football games, between 53 and 57, 58 football games, which not many college kids can walk away and say 'I played in 50-some football games and had an opportunity to play in three National Championship games or four National Championship games,' if you're a guy like [Nick] DeLuca."
As Klieman said, at the end of the day, the National Championship is just another football game (albeit, a very important one). So while there's potential to get swept up in the excitement of the moment, the opportunity to play another football game shouldn't be taken lightly.
"So that's a pretty special time. Never forget why you play the game, too."