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Larger Bison senior class making for an edgier fall football camp

NDSU head football coach Chris Klieman addresses his linebacking corps during a recent practice at August camp. David Samson / Forum News Service

FARGO—Perhaps the natural reaction of North Dakota State not winning a Division I FCS national title for the first time in five years is to have a little edginess during August football practices. That's probably true, said senior safety Tre Dempsey.

"Not being a champion of course, everybody is hungrier," he said.

But this month is different from last August in more than not having a ring. For the first time in three years, the Bison have a rather large senior class with 21 in their final year of eligibility.

The difference has been noticeable.

"That's double what we had last year so you have that many guys on both sides of the ball holding everybody accountable," said head coach Chris Klieman. "It does probably create more of an edge."

There were 11 seniors last season and 13 in 2015. Of last year's group, six were on offense and five were on defense, and Klieman was the first to say last year's leadership was very good. It just wasn't very big.

It's helpful to have veteran players not only during morning drills, but during team meetings and team walkthrough practices. With the elimination of two-a-day practices, many teams now use the evening hours for a walkthrough with the emphasis for younger players knowing where they need to be on a particular play.

And that's been a priority, particularly this week when coaches are trying to find younger players who can contribute in games.

"We like to say you're only as strong as your weakest player," Dempsey said. "I think we're making a lot of progress. You see a lot of younger players, backup players, who are coming on strong."

Klieman said it won't be until next week before he determines if any really young players—the true freshmen—have a chance to play right away. He said a controlled scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 12, may go a long way in determining that. The Bison redshirted the entire freshman class last year for the first time in their Division I existence.

"Some guys I believe have the capacity mentally to handle some of those checks and adjustments offensively and defensively, but now can they play at a fast pace?" Klieman said.

If anybody does play, it most likely would be on a special teams unit. Coming into this fall, the Bison had seven seniors each on the offensive and defensive two-deep charts. Punter Jackson Koonce and holder James Fisher are seniors.

"It absolutely makes a difference," Klieman said. "You're always going to remember your senior year."

A troublesome couple of days last week appears to have subsided—after the Bison lost defensive end Greg Menard for the year with an ACL tear and tight end Jeff Illies for a few weeks with an MCL sprain.

"Other than that, just the normal nicks and bruises where a kid will miss a day or two," Klieman said.

Said Dempsey: "We're in the grind. We just need to make sure we're taking care of our bodies and taking care of our players. We have to keep everybody safe. But when we go, we go hard."

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