The numbers are staggering. Outoging seniors amassing 40 All-MVFC selections have graduated. 10 of those were FCS AP All Americans. There are four Bison in the NFL now who were part of four consecutive FCS national championships.
The Bison are in Frisco, Texas seeking their fifth championship. That's an entire redshirt-senior worth of years. As mentioned before, this 2015 group of seniors includes many of the first set of redshirts who sat in the stands of what is now Toyota Stadium and watched NDSU win a title.
No Division I program has ever won four consecutive national championships, much less five. National Championship teams are often the best teams in program history. Teams have to be "built up" to win national championships.
Let me explain what I mean about "built up". The first two Bison basketball teams that won Summit league championships were built up. Ben Woodside, Brett Winkleman and Mike Nelson grew up together in the program and graduated as Summit League champs. There was a major drop-off after that season.
Taylor Braun, Trayvonn Wright and Marshall Bjorklund did the same, ending their career in the NCAA tourney. There was no drop off after that season. The Bison went 12-4 behind Lawrence Alexander in the conference and met Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. That's program progress.
There has been no drop off for the Bison Football Team. Success has followed success. 70-5 over the last 5 seasons. The key has been the success of young players.
Brock Jensen didn't get to be the FCS's all-time winningest quarterback without contributing for 3+ seasons. Christian Dudzik didn't get to set the record for starts at NDSU without contributing for 4 seaons. Young Bison have been stepping in to make key contributons during this entire run.
Let's take a look at four legendary Bison who left the program after 2014, and the freshmen and sophomores who have helped replace them.
Kyle Emanuel graduated from North Dakota State as the most decorated defensive player in NDSU's Division I history. Emanuel was an All-American and a four year starter. He also won the Buck Buchanan award, recognizing him as the best defensive player in the country.
He was a constant force in the backfield, collapsing the opposing offense from the weak side. Emanuel's exploits scored him an NFL combine invite. His work in the pre-draft process earned him a fifth round selection by the San Diego Chargers. Emanuel had a sack and an interception in his first game and started three games for the Chargers.
Greg Menard had his redshirt lifted in 2014 to bolster NDSU's depth at defensive end. After losing starting left end Mike Hardie to an injury, the Bison needed a boost, and Menard helped provide valuable pass rush snaps all season long. At 6'2" and 240 pounds, Menard was the perfect size to replace Emanuel at right end in Coach Matt Entz's defense.
While no one should expect to replace Emanuel's production, Menard did his best, especially before a midseason groin injury. In NDSU's first 7 games, Menard had 6 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Even on a defense with Nick DeLuca and CJ Smith, Menard was the best player on the Code Green defense. Not too shabby for a sophomore. Following the groin injury, Menard saw a reduction in both snaps and production. Menard got healthy around the last game of the season against Missouri State and recorded three sacks in the next two contests.
Menard's pass rush productivity has allowed the Bison to be a top-tier pass defense. Coach Entz rarely has to blitz to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It is very difficult to run a passing offense that gets pressure with four and cover with seven.
Christian Dudzik was an integral part of NDSU's success from 2011 to 2014. Integral in the sense that he started every game. The versatile Dudzik started at corner across from Marcus Williams as a freshman and for the next three seasons at free safety.
Often credited as the fasteset player on the team, Dudzik impacted the game both as a defender and as a returner. "Dudz" compiled 40 passes defensed and 13 interceptions over the course of 61 (!) starts. He also pitched in two punt return touchdowns in 2013. A member of the NDSU Athletics video staff, Dudzik was truly a do-it-all student athlete during his time at North Dakota State.
His replacement, Tre Dempsey, had a very similar path to regular playing time. Dempsey played corner as a freshman for the Bison in 2014. CJ Smith and Jordan Champion started at corner in '14, but as in '15 Champion played inside in the nickel. Dempsey played the 2014 version of Jalen Allison and came in to play outside corner. His solid freshman campaign was punctuated by the game-sealing interception in the playoff win over South Dakota State.
Dempsey, like Dudzik, has moved to free safety as a sophomore. The move was a success. Dempsey broke up nine passes and intercepted three more. Not only that, but he quarterbacked a secondary that ranked inside the top 15 nationally in pass defense and finished second in the MVFC. I'm not convinced we've seen the last of Dempsey at cornerback.
Colten Heagle was Dudzik's running mate for a majority of the championhsip run. Heagle burst onto the scene as a true freshman with a 64 tackle season. There isn't a Bison fan around that doesn't remember his epic performance shutting down Georgia Southern's triple option during the 2011 playoffs. Heagle finished with 15 tackles from the safety position. It's one of the single greatest individual defensive performances I can remember (well that, and Grant Olson vs. Wofford).
Heagle ended his Bison career as a three time all conference selection and a two time All American. He was a finalist for the 2014 Buck Buchanan award that his teammate (Emanuel) won. The Bison secondary had Coach Klieman's favorite "Heags and Dudz" at safety for a long time.
Robbie Grimsley was also thrown into the mix as a true freshman. Grimsley's first college game was on national television in the FCS showcase game against Montana. At first, Grimsley was part of a rotation with Chris Board. Board has since been moved to linebacker and Grimsley is now the full time starter at strong safety. Despite limited season-long playing time, Grimsley has made an impact with a sack, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
Minnesota's 2014 Mr. Football has been a quick study. He and Tre Dempsey could theoretically be another long term solution at safety. Grimsley might fit better long term at free safety. His speed and frame (6'0, 180) would traditionally place him in that spot. Wherever Grimsley plays, it's clear that he makes an impact.
John Crockett contributed to the Bison for three solid seasons, eclipsing 1,000 yards in each one. This was capped off by a dominant 1,994 yard, 21 touchdown performance in 2014. Crockett formed a one-two punch with Sam Ojuri in 2012 and '13, but became "the man" in '14. Crockett also became a useful pass catcher in 2014, amassing 30 catches.
Crockett also earned an invitation to the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Crockett signed with the Green Bay Packers immediately after the draft. Crockett has been active in three games for the Packers after being promoted from the practice squad. Crockett was a spark in Green Bay's road victory over the Detroit Lions that ended on a last second Hail Mary, also known as the "Miracle in Motown".
The Bison decided to try and replace Crockett with a stable of running backs. Offensive Coordinator Tim Polasek has been using five different backs to keep everyone fresh. Perhaps the most exciting of those is true freshman Bruce Anderson. Anderson, a Florida native, led the Bison in yards per carry. Anderson is the most explosive back of the group, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Anderson, like Crockett in 2013, has been electric on kick returns. The 2015 Bison are tops in the country in kickoff return average and Anderson is a big part of that. His two kickoff return touchdowns in the playoffs were huge plays in Bison victories. The idea of Anderson after a full offseason in Coach Kramer's strength and conditioning program is a scary thought for MVFC defenses.
NDSU is going to have more big holes to fill after the 2015 season, championship or no championship. Carson Wentz will go. Joe Haeg will go. So will starting cornerbacks Jordan Champion and CJ Smith. You can expect young Bison to continue the winning tradition.