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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 10 2010

Kolpack: Junior gets off to fast start with ESPN

Like they usually do in the early afternoons, the North Dakota State football players began gathering in the locker room to prepare for another practice. And as usual, the TV was turned to ESPN.

Specifically, “The Scott Van Pelt Show” featuring the ESPN anchor was going through another three-hour show. Then a familiar sight hit the Bison players: their football helmet was sitting on Van Pelt’s desk.

So junior safety John Pike grabbed his iPhone and immediately e-mailed Van Pelt at svp@espnradio.com asking him why “our helmet is on your desk.” Pike figured his message had about as much chance of reaching Van Pelt as the Bison had of going from a 3-8 record of last season to the national quarterfinals this Saturday.

Both happened.

Van Pelt said the reason for the helmet was simple: He liked it.

“He responded within 10 minutes of my email,” Pike said earlier this week. “I thought no way would my email ever get there, just get lost in a box full of emails. He picked it out and gave the Bison a shout out on national TV.”

Pike is perhaps the unlikeliest of players to spread the NDSU gospel when you consider how he got to Fargo. He was primarily a backup cornerback in high school in Chandler, Ariz., who was all of 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds.

He still won’t scare anybody walking across the NDSU campus, but he packs a punch with his 5-10, 181-pound frame. Bison defensive backs coach Brian Ward saw something he liked in Pike at San Diego Mesa Community College and brought him to Fargo.

Pike had 10 interceptions his last year at Mesa and he immediately was a good fit with his Bison teammates. He usually plays during passing situations.

“I fell in love with this place when I got here,” he said. “It’s been a unique road for me.”

NDSU has had its moments with ESPN since it made the Division I move in 2004. Exposure for the school in attracting students was a reason for ditching Division II and that has happened in all kinds of ways, like the time in 2007 when Lou Holtz said NDSU should go Division I-A after beating Minnesota and Central Michigan.

This week, Pike was thinking of providing Van Pelt a sequel.

“I think I’m going to email him back and say thank you and ask him for his prediction for the Eastern Washington and North Dakota State game,” he said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia