Several years ago, a prominent member of the North Dakota State athletic department told me he hoped Tim Brewster would be the football coach at the University of Minnesota for a long, long time. It was a jab at Brewster's competence and substance. The belief was that as long as Coach Brew was leading the Gophers, the Bison program would be able to pick off good talent out of the Twin Cities area because Brewster would be chasing flashy out-of-state players who received high marks on various recruiting web sites.
It was not to be. Brewster was fired after the 2010 season and the less-sizzle-more-steak Jerry Kill took over. No doubt that was a sad day in the Bison football offices at the Fargodome.
Alas, Brewster continues to be the gift who keeps on giving to the Bison program and head coach Craig Bohl.
When NDSU takes the field Saturday against Furman for its first Football Championship Subdivision playoff game of 2013, the remnants of Brewster's blunders will be sprinkled throughout NDSU's lineup.
Offensive lineman Billy Turner of Mounds View High School. Cornerback Marcus Williams of Hopkins High School. Injured linebacker Grant Olson of Wayzata High School.
Pillars who, if the No. 1-ranked Bison live up to their ranking, will eventually walk off the field in Frisco, Texas, as three-time national champions. It is those players missed by Brewster who've made the foundation of this remarkable Bison run.
They are players who would've contributed nicely to Minnesota's then-moribund program.
"The coaches (at Minnesota) ... you look at the success they had, well, that's kind of their punishment," Olson said this week. "We've kind of let it go."
This is not a fresh story. It was written and talked about heavily after the Bison whipped Minnesota 37-24 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in 2011. Williams, a Minneapolis native who open-enrolled to play on the Hopkins basketball team, starred in that game with two defensive touchdowns. He was the postgame focus of the Twin Cities media.
Billy Turner (photo courtesy NDSU)"It was pretty emotional, really, being from here and going up against the home state," Williams said after the game. "People thinking I wasn't good enough to play here, probably wasn't going to play D-I ball at all."
If this seems like picking at old wounds, perhaps it is to a certain extent. Brewster is long gone and Minnesota, for the foreseeable future, will not put NDSU on the schedule. But the talent Brewster and his staff allowed to travel up I-94 has been so important to the Bison's success since 2010 that is bears repeating.
Olson, before a career-ending knee injury several weeks ago, was the heart and soul of the Bison defense -- and its leading tackler. Turner is a mountain of a left tackle who's been invited to two college all-star games and will likely get a chance in the NFL. Williams is the All-America cornerback who could also end up on an NFL roster.
"A lot of people have asked us, 'How did Tim Brewster and the rest of the staff down there miss out on us?'" Turner said. "I think all of us kind of say the same thing: 'We're glad they did miss out on us.' We think we are right where we should be. It's definitely something that has been talked about and I think we are all perfectly fine with where we're at and how we're doing."
Funny thing is, neither Olson nor Turner had heard of NDSU until the Bison played the Gophers for the first time in 2006 (a 10-9 Gophers win under Glen Mason). They, of course, were paying attention when NDSU beat Brewster's Gophers in 2007 at the Metrodome (a game in which Brewster fanned the flames for Bison players by referring to them as "the little green guys").
"I remember listening to Sid Hartman's radio show, because I always listened with my dad, and he was talking about how Minnesota was going to beat NDSU and it wasn't going to be close," Olson said. "I remember all the NDSU fans calling in and saying, 'No, it's going to be a lot closer than you think, Sid.' It ended up being a close game and next year NDSU won. I just remember watching, going 'Wow, I can't believe it.'"
Whenever this season ends for the Bison -- Saturday against Furman, Jan. 4 in Frisco or somewhere in between -- Olson, Turner and Williams will be finished playing for NDSU. There will still be players from the Twin Cities metro on the team like Zach Vraa, C.J. Smith and others. But the question becomes: With a more competent coach in charge at Minnesota, will NDSU be able to continue harvesting loads of talent from the Gophers' backyard?
Marcus Williams (photo courtesy NDSU)
"With the amount of success we've had, that is something that will allow us to keep getting guys from Minnesota. They'll keep trickling up here," Turner said. "I know the staff down there is trying to get more kids in-state. But I think when it comes to some guys and the Gophers are offering gray-shirts or preferred walk-ons and NDSU is putting an offer on the table, I think more often than not some of those guys will come up here."
(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)