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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 31 2013

One key to the late Bison drive? Salt

MANHATTAN, Kan. – One of the greatest drives in North Dakota State football history started with just less than nine minutes remaining. Eight minutes and 30 seconds later, Brock Jensen scored from a yard out and the Bison defeated the Big 12 Conference defending champions.

The march consisted of 18 plays – 18 plays performed when fatigue was a major factor. Yet, it was the visiting, northern-climate Bison that looked to be the stronger team when it counted most in their 24-21 victory over Kansas State.

Give an assist to Sanford Health, head coach Craig Bohl said after the game.

“When Kansas State guys were cramping, we were still playing,” Bohl said. “I thought the guys at Sanford Health did a lot of great things to prepare us for that last drive.”

What did they do?

It perhaps started three years ago when Sanford personnel in Sioux Falls, S.D., conducted a study of Bison players using sweat patches, said NDSU strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer. The patches were then analyzed, with the intent to see which players lose more salt during strenuous work and which players tend to retain more. The point being: Losing salt is generally a precursor to muscles cramping.

“We identified those kids and made a list in fall camp,” Kramer said. “We tried to determine which kids are more prone to cramping, and we tried to get more salt into those kids.”

Getting players to buy into more of a salt diet is easier said than done, however. This week, NDSU resorted to an age-old grandma’s remedy: chicken noodle soup – with an addition of salt. It was a staple menu item for the players.

Pretzels and chips were readily available. Salt was also added to sports drinks, although it wasn’t a pleasant addition.

“It’s not always fun to chug that down,” Kramer said.

The extra-salt diet is no big secret, Kramer said, saying there are several products on the market. The key is to get players to follow directions, and Kramer said that is not a problem with this group.

“Salt in the Gatorade does not taste good,” he said.

The diet was prominently used last year at the FCS national title game in Frisco, Texas. Chicken noodle and tortilla soup was a staple item, with additional salt of course.

“But here it is in Manhattan, Kansas, it’s 100 degrees and the kids are eating (hot) soup,” Kramer said.

The temperature at kickoff was 98 degrees with an announced heat index of 103. It was still hot when Jensen fell into the end zone with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. It was still hot when Bohl conducted his postgame press conference in a small utility shack outside the Kansas State football complex. It was literally as hot as a sauna.

The coach didn’t cramp. Perhaps he also took excessive salt.

“We had some kids on the verge of cramping, but nobody locked up and wasn’t able to play,” Kramer said. “It was amazing I thought. But that’s the biggest thing with our players. We told them the importance of the salt. These kids want to give themselves every possible advantage to win. They were determined to win, and they believed it. Now this will just reinforce it in the future and we won’t have to talk about it a whole lot. I’m proud of the kids on that last drive and the heart they showed there.”

Jensen was 7-for-7 passing on that march for 53 yards with NDSU converting all four third-down conversions – three on Jensen passes. He had four carries for 11 yards.

The statistic that is not known, however, is how much salt he had during the week.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia