Bison alums from Rugby reflect
Rugby’s ties to North Dakota State University football go back to the 1960s, when after decades of mediocrity the Bison began laying the foundation for the dominant program fans adore today.
A pair of 1968 Rugby High School graduates – Wayne Stevenson and George Gilmore – agreed to join coach Ron Erhardt in Fargo. Erhardt took over as head coach in 1965, and seven winning seasons followed in his seven-year stint.
Freshmen were not allowed to play on varsity then, so the new guys from Rugby gained experience with the “Baby Bison” freshmen team, as Stevenson puts it.
“When I was in high school, I had no aspirations of playing college football,” he said. “Coach came to Rugby and was recruiting because we had a real good football team that year. I was offered a scholarship, so I said, ‘What the heck? Might as well take the scholarship and play.’ “
It was a no-brainer for Gilmore too.
“Ron Erhardt came to town,” said Gilmore, a pharmacist in Dillworth, Minn. “He was a pretty magical guy. He talked to a couple other guys, and when Ron Erhardt spoke all eyes were on him. He had everyone’s attention. He came to talk to me and asked if I wanted to win championships. That’s something that he sold us on. He talked about being a champion and if you wanted to be a champion come to Fargo.”
Stevenson, a fullback, and Gilmore, a linebacker, joined the varsity in 1969 and helped the Bison win back-to-back NCAA Division II championships over Montana. The games were played at the Camellia Bowl in Sacramento, Calif.
The Rugby natives didn’t expect the Bison to eventually move to Division I, but aren’t remotely surprised by the current run, which can be capped with a third straight FCS championship today.
“There was no reason why Bison football would not continue excelling,” Gilmore said. “It is going to continue after this. It’s an institution. It’s not just the people there at that particular time. It’s Bison football. It’s not Craig Bohl or any one or two or three players.”
Gilmore will be in Florida and watching today’s game on TV. Stevenson is in Frisco, Texas, to see the Bison play Towson (Md.) University.
“I’m going mainly to run into old teammates down there,” Stevenson said, “but I’m sure I’ll run into Rugby people too.”
Stevenson and Gilmore are both in the NDSU Ring of Champions as part of the their championship teams.
“We were inducted three years ago during a Bison football game,” Gilmore said. “Out of the 65 guys, we had 35 to 40 come back. I was in a room talking to those guys and it was just like we were 21 again. You mostly have the memories of just the camaraderie and hanging out with them.”
represented in ’80s
Bruce Gronvold played for the Bison in 1981 and 1982. He was a running back his first season before switching to wide receiver. NDSU lost in the national championship in ’81 and fell in a national semifinal game the following year.
“We had a heck of a winning season, too,” Gronvold said. “They don’t screw around. They get the top athletes around the country.”
Gronvold is in Frisco with a family group of seven. Each time he sees the Bison play, he’s likely to have a few flashbacks from his first days with the team.
“When you go from high school to there it’s just a totally different atmosphere,” Gronvold said. “You’re playing with some big boys there.”
Big boys included Gronvold’s teammates who played professionally. Stacy Robinson, the wideout playing opposite Gronvold, was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants. Twenty-four former Bison were drafted by NFL and CFL teams and 103 signed professional contracts.
“It’s just so awesome to be a part of the team and spend time seeing my old players when I’m there,” Gronvold said. “It brings back so many memories being there, just the spirit of that.”
Duchscher saw time in late 2000s
The most recent Rugby native to don the yellow and gold was Reed Duchscher, a wide receiver with NDSU from 2008 through 2010. Duchscher decided not to play football his senior year, which ended in the team’s first Division I title.
“When I first went to NDSU I knew it was something special,” Duchscher said. “The first day I got in they hammered Bison pride into us. Everyone knows you play for the guys who are there and were there. That’s the way they go about things at NDSU.”
Duchscher is completing graduate school in sport management at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and will be doing an internship with a sports agency in Denver this semester. (The move to the Rockies is preventing him from being in Frisco today.) FDU is just outside Manhattan and the Big Apple is growing more familiar with the Bison brand.
“It’s actually funny,” Duchscher said. “I have some Bison stuff I wear around town. Ten years ago nobody would’ve known, but now I get people asking because they say, ‘I saw NDSU on ESPN.’ “
Duchscher, much like the Rugby players who preceded him at NDSU, said his favorite memories are simply being with his teammates.
“I’m still best friends with a lot of the players on the team, and some of the coaches,” he said. “You miss the games, playing on game day, but the things you really miss are the plane rides home, conversation in the locker room and dining room. Those are the things I really miss, the interactions with teammates and coaches.”
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