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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 03 2013

There's no shortage of experience on this year's Bison football team

FARGO – There are 26 of them who showed up for the first day of North Dakota State football practice Saturday morning. There was no evidence of canes, arthritis or dentures.

Those 26 seniors are not that old.

It is, however, one of the largest classes the program has ever had and it is loaded with experience, victories and FCS national titles. They helped turn around a 3-8 season in 2009 to a playoff berth as freshmen in 2010.

They have won 39 games in three years.

“We have guys that have been there and done that,” said left tackle Billy Turner, who will be a four-year starter. “The only negative I can think of is next year when we’re all gone. You lose 26 guys and it might be tough on them but for now, it’s all positive.”

Head coach Craig Bohl said he did not sense the obvious question, complacency, in the first day. He called the first practice “sharper” than it has been in prior years.

“I thought the speed and athleticism was a bit ahead of where we were at,” he said. “But we have to move forward.”

Moving forward is something Turner has done since he was inserted into the lineup as a true freshman. Quarterback Brock Jensen has moved forward since he saw the field as a redshirt freshman.

Jensen said Saturday it seems like just yesterday when he participated in his first practice.

“A lot has happened in the time I’ve been here,” Jensen said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and a few downs, kind of seen it all. It will be fun to do it as a senior and getting after it with the guys.”

Like Turner, linebacker Grant Olson played as a true freshman. He was the understudy back then, a role that is practically opposite to what it is now. He was a team captain as a junior and an obvious leader this season.

It’s the younger players that will benefit from having 26 seniors, he said, and it’s important that happens sooner than later. Especially with depth at linebacker being a question mark.

It’s possible a freshman may have his redshirt lifted at one or more of the three positions, probably coming from Matt Plank, Nick DeLuca or Pierre Gee-Tucker.

“What we’re trying to get down is the effort,” Olson said. “OK, show us something, show us you can make some plays on the field. We’ll figure out the defense, we’ll coach you up later on, but we have to see some flashes right now and I think we’re seeing that. The coaches did a great job recruiting some of these guys and I think some of them will be able to contribute this fall.”

The key, Jensen said, is to bring the younger players up to the veterans’ level. He remembers Nick Mertens showing him the ropes at quarterback four years ago.

“I remember walking in as a freshman and not having a clue play-wise,” he said. “I remember trying to keep my head above water. I know the boat these guys are in now, and it’s fun to be the guy who know every little thing that’s going on.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia