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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 11 2013

Bison strength coach credited with team's late-game success

Fargo - If football was more like hockey and the sport had just three periods, North Dakota State would be 3-2 and most likely in the middle of the pack in the FCS top 25 poll. But, indeed, there are four quarters.

Just ask the Bison opponents, who have been virtually leveled in the last 15 minutes of games. The Bison have outgained their opponents a combined 523 yards to 254 and outscored them 48-0 during the final quarter.

During that final 15 minutes, they’ve been good on 17 of 22 third-down conversions for a whopping 77 percent success rate.

More impressive are the three games against the three toughest opponents: Kansas State, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa. The Bison have outgained those three 374-63 in the fourth quarter.

The varying reasons can be debated on why, but NDSU players will tell you it’s because of their strength and conditioning coach. This afternoon against Missouri State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, you may see Jim Kramer making sure the players stay behind the sideline and not get too close to the field. That’s his job.

His real value is in the offseason.

“He does it all behind the scenes,” said Bison senior defensive tackle Danny Luecke.

By behind the scenes, Luecke means winter workouts and summer conditioning. For whatever reason, NDSU seems to be doing it better than most. The proof is in the statistics.

“There’s a lot of heart there,” Kramer said. “It’s digging down deep and getting that part of it done.”

Under head coach Craig Bohl, NDSU is 7-3 against FBS opponents, and in most cases with the wins, the Bison were the better – and stronger – team in the fourth quarter. Those games are also a target of summer conditioning.

Against Minnesota in 2011, which was the third game of the season, Kramer said workouts were structured so the players would peak later in September. This year, with Kansas State being the opener and the crux of the team older and stronger, summer conditioning was done at a higher tempo.

“We’ve changed the routine based on where we want to be at the start of the season,” Kramer said.

That’s the physical part of his job.

The other – the mental – is about making sure nobody takes a shortcut, Luecke said.

“The mental aspect is just as serious as the physical,” Luecke said. “I think one of the biggest things is discipline. He trains discipline into us, doing the little details right.”

Kramer started working with the Bison football program a year after Bohl accepted the head coaching position in 2003. This week, Bohl said more than half of a team’s victories are won in the summer.

Put that down on paper and that would mean the strength and conditioning staff is directly responsible for more than 47 wins. It would make Kramer the sixth-winningest coach in NDSU history.

“I think the biggest thing is those players know he’s emotionally invested in them,” Bohl said. “He gives of his time and the players really believe, if coach Kramer says something, they do it. … It starts with recruiting the right type of guys who are committed to working hard.

“You have no answer for that in the fourth quarter. Those long drives, the defensive front in particular, those things don’t happen by accident.”

Like the 18-play, 80-yard drive against Kansas State that took 8 minutes, 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. Like the two touchdowns NDSU scored in the fourth quarter at SDSU. The Bison had the ball almost 11 of the 15 minutes.

Like the two touchdowns NDSU scored in the fourth quarter against UNI. The Bison had the ball for 10:20 of the 15 minutes.

Like the fourth-quarter rally in the FCS semifinals against Georgia Southern last year.

“Last year against Georgia Southern, before the game, I said, ‘You know, if we get into the fourth quarter with anybody, I’ll take our tough SOBs over anybody in the country,’” Kramer said. “That was heart and that was pride.”

Kramer was an average wrestler in college at Wisconsin-La Crosse, although he excelled in the classroom as an academic All-American. He says his wrestling background helps from a standpoint of teaching.

In wrestling, you’re always teaching moves and movements. It’s the same thing in the Bison weight room.

For the most part, college football programs across the country essentially do the same things, Kramer said. But this year, statistically and on the scoreboard, NDSU has been off the charts.

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