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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 15 2013

Bison at home away from home

Fargo - It may not equal Play-Doh, Silly Putty or potato chips as things discovered by accident, but North Dakota State found its football travel routine 10 years ago when a trip to the University of Montana went awry.

Granted, it’s not the main reason the Bison have won 16 straight road games – you can put talent as the No. 1 factor – but the adjusted itinerary in the 2003 game in Missoula, Mont., has stuck.

“It just so happened it started by a fluke,” said NDSU offensive coordinator Brent Vigen.

What happened? Smoke from forest fires forced the Bison charter plane to land in Helena, Mont., instead of Missoula. What caused the most angst, however, were the buses. They were late in getting to Helena, and on the way to Missoula, one of them broke down.

The Bison didn’t arrive until later Friday night. The plan of conducting a walk-through practice at Washington-Grizzly Stadium was shelved. Instead, the team went to a buffet restaurant for dinner.

“I remember vividly that we are not going to the stadium. ‘How are we going to do this?’” Vigen said.

The Division II Bison promptly went out the next day and shocked the Division I-AA Grizzlies in Craig Bohl’s second game as the Bison head coach. NDSU has not changed its travel routine since.

While most teams opt to practice at the opposing stadium on Friday, NDSU conducts its practice in Fargo, boards an airplane or bus sometime in the afternoon – the later the better – and heads to its destination. Vigen said a later departure on Friday also allows players to attend as many classes as possible.

Conversely, most teams that come to Fargo have either a walk-through practice or simply walk around Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome, said Brian Gordon, NDSU’s director of football operations/equipment services.

It doesn’t always work. Ferris State (Mich.), for instance, couldn’t get into the dome a Friday because of a Taylor Swift concert. A high school football game between Minot and Fargo South prevented Illinois State from working out last Friday.

NDSU’s travel plan is to take all of the potential Friday obstacles out of the equation. Moreover, it’s common for FCS stadiums to be located some distance away from airports or the team hotel, and that makes for more travel time.

“It’s not a huge deal what stadium we’re playing in,” said senior defensive end Cole Jirik. “It’s still 100 yards long, and it’s just a football field to us. We like the routine we’re in here. We do our

walk-through, hop on a bus, fly out, go eat some food and watch film.”

It’s really that basic.

And football players don’t like change, either. Bohl said he floated adjusting the travel routine to the captains earlier this year, but was immediately denied of the thought.

“I’m a superstitious person,” said senior offensive tackle Billy Turner. “I like the routine we have going on. It’s a winning routine, and I think it will continue to be a winning routine. It is a key part of our success in the victories that we’ve had, just being able to transfer that focus on Friday all the way to Saturday afternoon.”

The winning routine will be on the line today at Youngstown State (Ohio). As usual, NDSU practiced on Friday, flew to Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and spent the rest of the time at a Boardman, Ohio, hotel. The routine is so routine that NDSU has flown the same charter service, Delta, with many of the same flight attendants. All of them wear NDSU warmup gear.

“It makes you feel like they’re part of the staff,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor.

Taylor said Bohl stresses consistency when it comes to travel, so much so that Friday meals are done at the same time as for home games.

“It makes it pretty simple,” Jirik said. “Once we get to the hotel, we’re at the hotel for the night and we don’t have to worry about busing around, running around. That’s nice for us.”

About the only deviation in recent years was a game at Northern Iowa when the Bison players went to the

UNI-Dome early on game day to figure out what cleats to wear on the turf.

Players and coaches also attribute maturity to the road success. Bohl frequently equates it to a “business trip” mentality. You won’t see any Bison players sitting around a swimming pool like Delaware State did when it came to Fargo.

And you won’t see them at the stadium until two hours before game time.

“I think we trust each other when we get on the road,” Jirik said. “We’re a close-knit unit. Some of these guys have played so many games together, and we don’t care where we’re playing, home or on the road. It’s another game to us.”

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