Jeff Kolpack, Published October 10 2013
Kolpack: Walk-on is a Hall of FamerFargo
Well, if things don’t work out as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Gus Bradley can always go back to selling T-shirts. He was pretty good at it back in his North Dakota State days.
Those were the times when he and fellow Bison safety Ken Clark would relentlessly study film of the opposing teams. They rarely would watch the receivers or running backs, but instead would focus on the offensive linemen.
Just after the moment the ball was snapped, they knew instantly whether the play was going to be a run or pass, Clark said. Bradley took his football trade into the coaching ranks and this year got the highest post possible: an NFL head coach.
“Gus is blessed with the path he took,” said Clark, who has remained friends with him over the years. “Gus is the one person who exudes what us players call Bison pride. He’s a selfless, great guy.”
Today, the path Clark took as a walkon player from Bismarck to the NDSU starting lineup and ultimately All-American status will be recognized when he will be inducted into the Bison Hall of Fame.
Like Bradley peddling T-shirts, convincing Clark to walk on to NDSU was an easy sell. For starters, there weren’t many options for a kid from a losing prep program in central North Dakota.
“I wanted to come in the worst way and they knew it,” Clark said. “This wasn’t the age of YouTube and that stuff. If you were a North Dakota kid, that was your option.”
These days, they call players like Clark “preferred” walkons. He went on to become the first defensive back to lead the team in tackles doing it both his junior and senior seasons.
Counting his redshirt year in 1986, NDSU won three national titles while he was on the team. All three were undefeated seasons and all three would probably have done very well in Division I-AA. Clark remembers an all-division computer ranking from 1990 that had the Bison at No. 46, one notch ahead of Georgia Southern.
“People say we were Division II but I don’t think there was a big difference between Division II and I-AA back then,” he said. “It’s really hard to compare though. I’m just happy with what we did.”
Clark set the school single-game record for tackles with 26, which stood until last year when linebacker Grant Olson had 29 in the FCS playoff game against Wofford College (S.C.).
“Playing my position was like a quarterback on offense,” Clark said. “If the team does well, you’ll do well.”
That will be the theme of his acceptance speech today. You can’t do it alone.
“The biggest takeaway from NDSU is the people and the relationships,” Clark said. “You have the memories, the victories and the national championships but what really lasts is the friendships. Its’ amazing that you can pick up where you left off with any of these guys.”
In the case of Bradley, that would presumably include selling T-shirts.
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found