North Dakota State may be in the unique position next Saturday to have two true freshmen playing large roles in the national championship game against James Madison. Running back Seth Wilson is likely to get plenty of reps at running back and Josh Hayes possibly to start at cornerback if Jalen Allison or Jaylaan Wimbush are unable to go because of injury. But as history has shown us, the Bison have had success with true freshmen on the big stage.
- 2011 – NDSU’s first trip to the title game was littered with redshirt freshman in big spots (Beck, Littlejohn, Dudzik, Emanuel) but there was only one true frosh that played in that game and that was walk-on Nate Moody. Moody didn’t have a reception in the game, but his value was needed that season after injuries to Zach Vraa and Ryan Smith.
- 2012 – Zack Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup midway thru that season out of injury needs and impressed the coaching staff to know he was going to be a valuable piece of the offensive line for the future. Johnson didn’t start in the title game, but he was the only true freshman that saw playing time that season.
- 2013 – The greatest FCS team of all time dipped its toes into the true freshmen water with three players that had roles on the team. Chase Morlock, Nick DeLuca and Brad Ambrosius were all on the field in Frisco against Towson with Morlock and DeLuca making tackles that day to complete the three-peat.
- 2014 – RJ Urzendowski became an NDSU fan favorite earlier in that postseason against South Dakota State, but became a legend with his performance against Illinois State. Urzendowski had five receptions for 100 yards, including three on the game winning touchdown drive from Carson Wentz. His acrobatic catches and speed stunned the Redbird defense and kept the Bison title streak alive at four.Urzendowski wasn’t the only true frosh on the field, as Greg Menard began his illustrious Bison career that season with a half sack in the title game.
- 2015 – Chris Klieman knew he’d have to pull the redshirts on a couple of freshmen during fall camp and that gamble paid off in a big time way in Frisco. Four played against Jacksonville State, led by kicker Cam Pedersen, who’s confidence was shaken coming into the title game and then kicked three goals, the longest from 38 yards. Robbie Grimsley’s year got off to a rough start in Missoula, but ended in fine form with eight tackles and a pass breakup against the Gamecocks. Bruce Anderson’s heroics got NDSU to Frisco with two kick returns for touchdowns against Montana and Northern Iowa. Anderson ran five times for eleven yards in the title game. Dimitri Williams played that year as a true freshman, but was injured for the game.
It’s been a mixed bag of results for NDSU players in the title game, but there’s no doubt that Wilson and Hayes will likely have more pressure on them than any of these other true freshmen in Frisco.