Mahnomen has footprint on NDSU's title run
There's quite a difference between playing Class 1A high school football in Minnesota to reaching the Division I FCS level, as many players don't even get a chance of making that much of a leap.
Now add the rarity of winning a D-I FCS National Championship into the equation.
Having just one player representing that small Class 1A program on a National Championship team would be quite the feat, but make that three players and it becomes a much rarer accomplishment.
That's exactly what the Class 1A powerhouse Mahnomen football program has done, with a trio of former Indians on the roster of this year's D-I FCS National Championship team, North Dakota State University.
Ty Beckius started the current crop of Indians playing for the Bison, as Mahnomen teammate Anthony LaVoy soon followed after transferring from Bemidji State University.
Two years later, Anthony's cousin, Alex, turned in his Mahnomen Maroon-and-Gold jersey for the Green-and-Gold of the Bison.
The three NDSU players have something else in common, besides hailing from Mahnomen -- they all were walk-ons.
But the similarities don't end there.
Every one of the three Bison players had other opportunities to see more playing time if they would have committed to other colleges, but in each case, one aspect drew them to NDSU -- simply the love and passion of being a Bison.
"I always wanted to go to NDSU," Beckius said. "I made official visits to other colleges like SCSU and MSUM, but I really wanted to be here and I told (offensive line) Coach Brian Vigen that I'll take whatever offer you throw at me.
"So they offered me a preferred walk-on spot and I took it."
Beckius was a dominating force on the Mahnomen offensive line for nearly three seasons and made a good name for himself through his prep career.
But his love of the Bison was ingrained in him during his time at Mahnomen, much like it is for many youths of the community.
"The Bison get a lot of publicity in our area and they are the premium college which is followed by many people in Mahnomen," said Indian head coach John Clark Jr., who coached all three Bison players. "NDSU is viewed as the top echelon team here and a lot of kids dream of playing for them."
But having three players on a nationally prominent college team is rare, and Clark acknowledges that.
The Indians have been a traditional top team in the state in Class 1A by winning six state championships and finishing as this year's state runner-up.
There has been a good lineage of players to move on to play college ball, but mostly on the D-II or D-III level.
Beckius and the LaVoy cousins each sacrificed more playing time they could have had on another team, but the desire of being a Bison trumped that.
"I give a lot of credit to those guys, because they went from being the stars on our team, to realizing you have to pay your dues and start back at square one on the D-I level," Clark said.
"They accept their roles on the team and they just want to contribute."
Anthony LaVoy took a detour before landing at NDSU, as he spent a redshirt year at BSU after graduating from Mahnomen in 2009.
He played tight end, fullback and linebacker and led the Northern Plains Conference in scoring with 68 points as a senior and rushed for 542 yards and added 156 receiving yards.
Bison Green-and-Gold was in LaVoy's blood, though, since his uncles played for the Bison in the 1980's and 1990's.
During his redshirt season, LaVoy worked out hard and added enough bulk to enter the 2011 season on the defensive line.
"No one wants to sit out a year, but I definitely needed it because it helped me get stronger and faster," Anthony said.
"It was a challenge, because I came from a small town where I was the head honcho, to a D-I program where everybody is a star and everyone here is a competitor."
LaVoy caught the attention of his coaches in practice and started earning playing time on the defensive line, with his first play coming in the season opener, Sept. 3 against Lafayette.
"It was amazing, having 18,000 fans screaming, it really provided a lot of motivation," Anthony said.
"But as the coaches always say, you need to prepare like you are a starter."
LaVoy came in as an injury fill-in, but he made the most out of his chances and it all came to fruition in the second round of the playoffs inside the Fargodome against Lehigh.
The former Indian played almost the entire game in the 24-0 victory, on a defense which was dominant from the first game to their final push in the NCAA National Championship game against Sam Houston University.
"The defensive unit was just a group of hard-nosed guys, who love to hit people," Anthony said.
"They are all fundamentally sound and just dedicated."
The Bison defense gave up only 191 points all season to opponents, as they were a turnover machine, creating a total of 31 -- 10 fumble recoveries and 21 interceptions.
"The coaches did a great job, they had every play broken down of what the other team was going to run," Anthony added.
The offensive line was also responsible for helping not one, but two, Bison running backs eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, with Sam Ojuri picking up 1,105 yards and DJ McNorton 1,020.
Beckius, who is a junior, earned his spot in the O-line rotation and saw firsthand what that unit was capable of.
"Up front wins games," Beckius said. "It's not a glamour position, but that's where it all starts."
Beckius' workouts during the offseason slimmed him down, but added plenty of muscle by going from 315 pounds to 300 on his 6-4 frame.
Much like with LaVoy, an unfortunate injury to one player, created an opportunity for another.
Beckius saw playing time due to injuries, including three starts, but each and every time, he produced on the offensive line.
"You have to be a team player and prepare like a starter," Beckius said. "You're always one play away from being on the field."
For Alex LaVoy, a 2011 Mahnomen graduate who starred for the Indians at linebacker and running back, he is following suit and biding his time.
He was a walk-on redshirt this season, but he is always the first one stepping up to fill in a spot on the scout team and a regular presence in the weight room.
Alex's father played at NDSU and he is also enjoying playing with his cousin, Anthony.
Alex LaVoy also had a front seat for the run to the National Championship and he is more than ready for his turn this coming spring, when he gets to continue his quest of making the team.
"I've learned everything is faster on this level and all the players play their heart out on every single play," Alex said. "I have been watching my position (linebacker) specifically in games, so I'm learning it.
"Now, I just need to put everything together for this spring."
The chance to be on a National Championship team has also been memorable, to say the least, for all three former Indians.
But the 2011 season is in the rear view mirror and preparations are already being made to defend their championship with the start of winter workouts, which started last Monday.
But all three Mahnomen players still look back at their Indian playing days and regard them fondly, and all three enjoyed their former team's run to the state championship game, as well.
"There is nothing bad you can say about Coach Clark, he's very personable and he pushes you to be the best you can be," Beckius said. "It was one of my highlights of my life playing for Mahnomen."
There were plenty of texts shared during the Bisons' championship run between the three players and their former Mahnomen coach.
That proves the three championship Bison players haven't forgotten their roots.
"One may come from a small community, but you can still do big things," Beckius said.