Schnepf: Valley City boy's presence in Frisco speaks volumes
FRISCO, Texas - Hidden amongst the estimated 14,000 North Dakota State fans who consumed FC Dallas Stadium on Saturday was 15-year-old Sam Ihry.
First-row seat, 50-yard-line, right behind his heroes: the Bison football players.
Born with a chromosomal abnormality that prevents him from speaking, Ihry couldn't yell like all those other Bison fans. But just like the rest, he was celebrating NDSU's 39-13 Football Championship Subdivision national title win over Sam Houston State.
"He may not be able to speak, but he gets it," said his mother, Dawn, who brought Sam and her daughters Grace and Ruth to Frisco all the way from Valley City, N.D. "He can point out his favorite players."
One of those players is sophomore kicker Adam Keller, who first met Sam during a Bison practice last year. He and others, including head coach Craig Bohl, adopted him as one their own - always making a point to shake his hand before the games he attends.
"He stands in the seats at the 50-yard-line at every Bison game until they kick him out," said his mother.
But for Saturday's game, Ihry and his family were given premium tickets through a mutual friend of Bohl's. And he got a front-row view of Keller hoisting an extra-point pass instead of kicking it.
The botched snap that turned into a 2-point conversion gave the Bison a 25-10 lead in the third quarter. The rout was on, and Ihry was smiling.
"I want to make sure he's coming to our games next year. ... He's a good luck charm," said Keller, who received a Christmas card from Ihry wishing him luck in the title game. "He makes a difference. To have fans like that come down to Frisco and be a part of all this, it not only lifts their spirits, but it lifts ours as well."
Spirits certainly reached a new high Saturday for the Bison football program. With its dominating win, NDSU became only the fourth school to win back-to-back championships in the 35-year history of the FCS.
And with only seven seniors and only three starters leaving this year's team, talk of a three-peat has already begun.
Bohl refuses to talk about a three-peat. But NDSU President Dean Bresciani brought it up when he got the microphone during the postgame celebration in which nearly three-quarters of the football field was covered with Bison fans.
"You are legend," Bresciani said of a football program that now has 28-2 record in the past two seasons.
Of course, Bresciani could just have well been talking about the Bison fans. The estimated 14,000 who showed up Saturday bettered last year's estimated 12,000. It also surpassed or nearly equaled the attendance of 16 of the 35 FCS championship games.
Rumors were circulating that some Bison fans went online to purchase a $50 membership to the Sam Houston Bearkat booster club just so they could get a ticket. That could explain why you saw some green and gold amidst the Sam Houston orange.
When Bison players hoisted the championship trophy in the air amidst all that confetti, it was as if all those fans were lifting it as well.
"With our success I think a lot of other people have identified with that," said Bohl, who proclaimed the Bison fans as the best in the nation - including Sam Ihry. "And there are certain people who are with us through thick and thin, and Sam is probably one of them.
"If you can brighten someone's day with something you are doing, put a smile on their face and make them feel better, it's a good thing."
It certainly was for Sam Ihry, even if he couldn't join in the celebratory chants of "Let's Go, Bison" or "Eight More Years" - in reference to Bohl's recent eight-year contract extension.
"This has been a dream," said Dawn Ihry, the mother who said she would probably shed a tear or two on Saturday. "This has been an awesome day."
Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or firstname.lastname@example.org