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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 03 2014

Kolpack: Vietnam casualty, ex-Bison would have loved this Bison run

Frisco, Texas - Stu Orvik was sitting at his computer three weeks ago typing some words about a man he knew long ago. The more he thought of Jerry Schlicht, the more his eyes began to tear up.

Orvik is almost 77 years old and has followed the North Dakota State football team’s success over the years. The latest run of Division I FCS playoff games and titles got him thinking a lot about his old friend Jerry.

“I’ve thought of Jerry many times and how he’d relish these Bison teams,” Orvik said.

Jerry Schlicht died in the Vietnam War a few years after college, and his name can be found on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington. Former Bison player and legendary Minnesota high school coach George Thole made note of that in an article he wrote for his hometown Stillwater, Minn., newspaper.

“He was a ’copter pilot who was lost and a terrific young man,” Thole wrote. “I saw his name on the Wall and I felt that he knew that I was there for him.”

They were there for him late Friday afternoon on a practice field outside of Toyota Stadium. It was NDSU’s last practice before today’s Division I FCS title game against Towson University (Md.), and in what has become a tradition, all former Bison players were invited on the field to watch.

It was the kind of gathering that Jerry would have savored.

“Big time,” said Ardell Wiegandt, who played with Schlicht on the ’64 team. “Jerry loved football. He loved life. He would enjoy visiting with his teammates.”

Wiegandt and Schlicht were both in the Marine Corps; Wiegandt before he got to NDSU and Schlicht after. Wiegandt told the story of how Schlicht trained another former Bison player how to fly a helicopter and how the military meant so much to all of them.

“Great teammate, good friend, very patriotic guy,” said Jim Driscoll, who like Wiegandt was a former Bison player and assistant coach. “I think he wanted to coach after he got out of the service, and I’m pretty sure we would have ended up coaching together. We all miss him of course.”

Jerry was an offensive lineman who had big legs and a big heart. This was the same generation that went from an 0-10 program in 1962 to the first national championship in 1965.

The reason around 200 former players gathered on Friday to watch practice is because somebody had to start the football prominence.

Not everybody got to enjoy watching all of the titles.

“I remember a group of guys got together and went to his funeral,” Wiegandt said. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”

That was a tough day.

Friday was a fun day. There were more hugs than you would see at a big wedding. Mention the name Jerry Schlicht to players from the ’60s, and they all made some reference to “good guy.”

So today, if the Bison find themselves in a fourth-quarter battle with the Tigers, perhaps a little of that old Jerry attitude would be in order.

“Jerry was the kind of guy you’d want next to you in the fourth quarter,” Orvik said.

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