Jalen Sundell values winning football. That was obvious last season when the Maryville offensive tackle signed with the best program in the Division-1 Football Championship Subdivision, North Dakota State.
That decision to choose the Bison over other opportunities was rewarded on Saturday when North Dakota State topped Eastern Washington, 38-24, in the FCS National Championship Game.
“It was a great experience,” Sundell said. “No national championships are guaranteed and just to be able to be a part of one is really special. To send our seniors off with that is really cool.”
Sundell credits his time with Spoofhound football and playing for coach Matt Webb with instilling that value of winning football and playing the game the right way.
“Coach Webb did an awesome job preparing me to be able to compete up here,” Sundell said. “But I think, more importantly, Coach Webb does a phenomenal job teaching kids how to do the right thing and I think that probably what he prepared me the most for. The culture up here is the same as Spoofhound football which is doing the right thing all the time and taking care of you business.”
Unlike last year when Sundell was the Class 3 Offensive Player of the Year and playing both offense and defense while leading Maryville to a state title, this season he had to be a spectator for game-day while he redshirted, but that didn’t take anything away from the experience.
“The older guys are second to none,” Sundell said on watching from the sideline. “(I focused on) just getting them ready throughout the week and giving them the look that they need.”
Sundell spent his first season in Fargo putting in the work to transform himself from a multi-sport high school star into a full-time Division-1 football offensive lineman.
“Being able to compete against the best defense in the FCS the whole year and playing against those guys every day in practice has just tremendously improved my skill level and the rest of our redshirt freshmen's,” Sundell said. “I think that is one of the big reasons that we can continuously have so much success each year. The older guys really teach us and give us the tools that we need to fill their shoes.”
The most obvious change in that has been his weight-room work where he increased his weight from 238 pounds during basketball season last year to 286 pounds currently.
“It is just eat, sleep, breath, football and weights,” Sundell said. “Eating is a huge part. Eating and weights are probably even more important than improving our skills on the football field for right now.”
Going into next season, Sundell is looking forward to have the chance to get on the field and help the Bison attempt to win their eighth FCS National Championship. North Dakota State returns both their starting offensive tackles, but will be replacing all three of its interior linemen.
“The goal is to just keep putting on weight and put myself into a spot where I can compete to play some next year,” Sundell said. “Obviously the main goal is to just do whatever I can in whatever my role is to compete to the best of my ability and help my team win every game, one game at a time.”
In addition to having to replace their starting quarterback, top two running backs and top three pass catchers, the Bison will have a near-complete turnover with the offensive coaching staff. Head coach Chris Klieman was named the next head coach at Kansas State on December 10, but stayed in Fargo through the playoff run.
“Coach Klieman is just an unbelievable person and we are happy for him,” Sundell said. “It is tough to see him go, but we are happy for him.”
Klieman will bring offensive coordinator/running backs coach Courtney Messingham and running-game coordinator/offensive line coach Conor Riley along with several other Bison coaches with him to Manhattan while defensive coordinator Matt Entz has been promoted to North Dakota State’s head coach. The program’s dynasty has been through coaching changes before though and Sundell is excited for the future under Entz’s leadership.
“Our new coach, Coach Entz, is the right man for the job,” Sundell said. “Everybody knew that he was was the right man for the job. It wasn’t a huge issue for anybody. We know that NDSU is a special place and it is a players’ program. No matter who is coaching there, we are going to continue to be successful and play Bison football.”