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Eric Peterson, Published January 04 2013

True freshmen with two different roles take in Frisco experience

FRISCO, Texas – Derek McGinnis and Zack Johnson are true freshmen for North Dakota State who will experience the national championship game from markedly different perspectives.

McGinnis, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback from Crete, Neb., is redshirting. He won’t play in today’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game against Sam Houston State at FC Dallas Stadium.

Johnson, a 6-4, 324-pound offensive lineman from Apple Valley, Minn., is playing in his first season. He rotates in on the Bison offensive line and has started one game this season.

“It’s really cool to be the only freshman not redshirting,” Johnson said. “This is why I came here, to be a champion. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

The Bison have had success playing true freshmen in recent seasons. For example, junior offensive tackle Billy Turner, junior linebacker Grant Olson and senior safety Bobby Ollman are among the current Bison players who saw the field in their first college seasons.

“Sometimes it’s a really easy decision and other times it’s very difficult,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said of pulling a player’s redshirt. “You’re trading basically they’re least productive year for their most productive year most of the time. But, you’ve got a responsibility to do everything you can to win now. These seniors deserve that.”

Johnson said he came into the program thinking he was going to redshirt like most players. That expectation changed during fall camp after a brief exchange with Bison offensive line coach Scott Fuchs.

“One day during practice coach Fuchs said, ‘You are going with the 1s,’ and it just carried on from there,” Johnson said. “From the first game, I played, and the redshirt was gone.”

McGinnis came to NDSU knowing he would likely redshirt with junior Brock Jensen and redshirt freshman Carson Wentz already established on the quarterback depth chart. McGinnis has been charged with running the scout-team offense. He said going up against the top defense in FCS in practice every day is valuable experience in his development.

McGinnis and the rest of the Bison redshirt freshmen made the trip to Frisco (like last season) and have been able to experience the championship game buildup, even though they won’t be on the natural grass at FC Dallas Stadium today.

“It’s a really cool experience,” McGinnis said. “We get to hang out with the older guys more than we usually do. It’s really good team bonding.”

McGinnis and Johnson both live in the same dormitory. Johnson said sometimes the other true freshmen on the team give him light-hearted ribbing because he’s playing.

“He’s on the same floor of our dorm, and we give him a hard time some time,” McGinnis said. “It’s really cool and we’re really happy for him, and we wish him the best of luck all the time.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com