The North Dakota State University football team continues to dominate the Division 1 FCS ranks with a 38-24 win over Eastern Washington last week in Frisco, Texas, where the Bison won their seventh national championship in the past eight years.
Playing a role on the last two championship teams was Superior’s Ross Kennelly, the team’s long snapper on punts and field goals.
“It’s a pretty surreal feeling. It hasn’t totally hit yet,” Kennelly said. “I feel really blessed and privileged to be part of the Bison program. We have a lot of support and a lot of great fans, so just being able to win for them is really special and means a lot to everybody on the team.”
A lot of that support comes from Superior. Kennelly’s parents, Paul and Stacy, flew to Frisco, Texas, for the game, and his aunt and uncle, Pete and Brenda Kennelly, drove to the game from their home in the Twin Cities.
There was also a large gathering of family and friends at Tavern 105 in South Superior. Among the group were Kennelly’s grandmother, Susan Kennelly, and uncles, Rick and Rob Kennelly.
“I saw some of the pictures; that was great,” Ross Kennelly said. “To know that there were people back home supporting me was cool. It means a lot to me; it’s pretty special.”
Ross Kennelly also noted that a number of his former Superior High School coaches and friends gathered at Rich Reder’s house, including former Spartan teammates Brett Lozon and Beau Reder, who is playing with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
As for celebrating their title, the Bison were given just over a week off before returning to workouts Monday, Jan. 15. The winter workouts, which include the weight room and running, will run through spring break.
After spring break, spring ball practice begins and runs about a month. After a couple of weeks off when school ends, summer training begins and leads into the season.
“It’s a challenge,” Kennelly said. “Winning the national championship makes it a long season. Most teams that don’t make the playoffs, have closer to a month off, but when you win it all you don’t get as much time off.”
But that’s just fine with Kennelly, who will hone his snapping skills and prepare for another title, along with more playing time at linebacker and on other special teams.
“Long snapper, that’s my primary role and the only thing I did this season,” Kennelly said. “But I would go to all of the meetings, so I would know our weekly game plan and during practice I would do individual drills with the linebackers, but I wouldn’t take any reps. I was pretty involved with the linebackers group, but that wasn’t my role this year. As long as I’m long snapping, it was hard for me to play defense.”
All of the meetings and preparation will hopefully help set up Kennelly for more playing time.
“I’m not entirely sure what my future holds,” Kennelly said. “I figure I will still be the long snapper next season, but hopefully I will have the opportunity to play on other special teams like kick off and kick and punt returns. I played those last year so I have experience.”
Being a long snapper isn’t as easy as some would think.
“It wasn’t the easiest process because none of the coaches were experts at it,” Kennelly said. “What I learned in high school I brought to college, but what I’m learning in college is from previous long snappers at NDSU. They tweaked what I already knew and found out what worked for me.
“There are things I have to work on and get better at, and I have a plan for that.”
Along with the national title comes the championship ring.
“I remember my freshman (redshirt) year we lost in the semifinals, so the ring we did get was for the conference title,” Kennelly said. “That was really cool, but then last year when we got our championship rings it was like holy crap, it was huge. It also meant a lot more because I played and was part of it.
“I can't wait for this one, they’re something else. They’re so big that when you wear it, in 10 to 15 minutes you can feel it weighing down your hand.”
NOTES: Other former Spartans to have successful careers at NDSU include Matt Tracy, Mike Gidley, Kevin Holm and Zach Colvin. … In all, it was the 15th football national title in school history. … Kennelly had five solo tackles on the season, including one in the 44-21 win over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the semifinals Dec. 14. For his career, Kennelly has played in 23 games with nine tackles, including a 5-yard sack.