In a game between two of the most well-rounded teams in all of FCS football, something's gotta give to determine a champion. When North Dakota State and James Madison take the field Saturday to determine the FCS title-winner, will that something be special teams?
In talking to the specialists from both teams, one theme rang true — whether you were talking to the veteran specialists from NDSU or the freshmen specialists from JMU — this is just another game, and consistency is key.
“The bigger the game the more relaxed I want to be," Koonce told HERO Sports. "I’m locked in but I’m relaxed at the same time, and the other specialists feel the same way. Regardless of the opponent we have to execute the same way, so that’s what we’re focused on, just doing our jobs.”
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His long-snapper, All-American fifth-year senior James Fisher, echoed that thought:
“I think being a specialist, you need to treat every game the same, no matter what," Fisher told HERO Sports. "What we do for our position is really a closed activity. For me, a snap, it’s 15 yards or seven yards every time, no matter what. We need to treat these games the same no matter what, and my preparation won’t change as far as my routine before the game or during the game before 4th downs happen.”
While a guy like Fisher is in Frisco for the fourth time in his college career, a couple of the specialists over on the JMU side are both freshmen. But both carry the same mentality into the game.
Freshman JMU punter Harry O'Kelly, an Australian native who watched last year's championship on replay back home, said it comes down to simply doing your job.
“It’s the same thing, week-in, week-out," he told HERO Sports. "Just catch the ball, kick the ball, and trust my team to get down there and cover.”
His freshman teammate, kicker Ethan Ratke, has already showed this season how consistency pays off when he nailed a 46-yard field goal as time expired to beat Weber State and send JMU to the semi-finals.
“I don’t do anything differently, I’m just trying to treat it like any other game, which in our minds it is," Ratke told HERO Sports. "I don’t have to try any harder to make a kick, I’m just doing the same thing every time.”
“You’ve just got to stay focused, and no matter what the score is, you just have to think, ‘I’ve done this for a long time, I know what I’m doing, I don’t have to do anything different.”
That's the plan for both teams' specialists come Saturday, when special teams could very well decide which color of confetti rains down after the final whistle.