A storybook ending for Steidl
Carlos native and Alexandria graduate Aaron Steidl soaked in the moment as the final seconds ticked off the clock on the North Dakota State football team's national championship win over Eastern Washington on Jan. 5.
In the moment, Steidl was not thinking about how far he had come over the course of his five years as a Bison. It was quite a journey—from a walk-on in 2014 to a team captain as a senior. In that final moment of his college career, the defensive tackle was just thinking about the teammates he worked with to make that run so memorable.
"The last couple seconds, it was honestly which one of my brothers was I going to hug first," Steidl said of his thoughts on the field that day. "This senior class, we really put together a plan of going out on top. We wanted to win and knew we were going to win because of all the effort and determination we put in during the offseason, the preparation we do each week. I wasn't afraid we weren't going to win, but when it was done, it was a weight off our shoulders and it was just time to celebrate."
That expectation of winning is the mindset that persists within this Bison program. North Dakota State has now won seven national championships at the Division I FCS level in the last eight seasons after taking care of Eastern Washington in a 38-24 game in Frisco, TX.
During Steidl's redshirt season in 2014, the Bison won their fourth straight title. At the time, the natural thing to think is that level of success can't be sustained. Steidl and his classmates continued the legacy by leaving with three more championships, wrapping up this one with a perfect 15-0 season.
"It's the way we prepare at North Dakota State," Steidl said. "Summer time, we're working out with coach (Jim) Kramer, our strength coach. He's like a God when it comes to preparing us. Then in season, we watch so much film, we do so many walkthroughs. In between meals, between a meeting, we're doing walkthroughs at all times. The amount of preparation gets us to the point where we're not nervous we're not going to win. There are some games we do slip up. Luckily, this year wasn't one of them."
The undefeated season and everything that came with it was the perfect ending for Steidl's career. Once a 170-pound running back for the Cardinals, he grew into a 290-pound defensive tackle who helped this Bison defense hold opponents to just 12.6 points per game.
Even as a walkon, Steidl always envisioned being able to get on the field and help this team out. Being a team captain, though? That title is perhaps one of the more meaningful personal achievements that came out of his career.
"It meant the world to me," he said. "It was the one thing I strived for. It was a shock to me. I didn't expect it to happen. I could probably count five other guys in our senior class I would have voted in before myself, but it was honestly one of the biggest honors being at North Dakota State because it's such a proud program that so many leaders have come out of. To include myself in that list of guys who have been captains before, it's just an awesome privilege."
Steidl said he did not let it change the way he went about his senior season. He was still the same person, a guy who worked hard to get himself to that point. If anything, it put him in a position where he had to talk a little bit more as a team leader.
"I don't know how good I was at that," Steidl said with a laugh. "That was probably the only thing that switched. Instead of just saying, 'Hey, let's get fired up.' It was talking with guys about things that coach had talked about, keeping guys accountable."
Steidl is confident that the Bison will continue being the dominant FCS program in the country even after the loss of head coach Chris Klieman. Klieman accepted the head coaching job at Kansas State University, and defensive coordinator Matt Entz was promoted as NDSU's next head coach.
Steidl said the whole team was happy for the opportunity that Klieman got to coach in the Big 12 Conference, but that Entz will do a great job in carrying on the culture that has been so successful for the Bison.
"I was (number) 63 for five years and now it's someone else's turn to keep it going," he said. "That puts it in perspective. The program is bigger than one person, so nothing is going to change in our culture."
NDSU will always be a special place for Steidl as he looks ahead to his future. He continued to take classes this school year to finish up a couple academic minors, but he graduated last spring with a degree in agribusiness.
Steidl is still hopeful that there might be more football in his future. After allowing himself a few days off from the routine after the season ended, he will get back to training. Hopeful that an opportunity might come along with an NFL team during the offseason.
"I'm going to work out for pro day," Steidl said. "I figured I might as well give it another shot before I get told to stop playing football. My body hates me for it, but I have four more months of my life to at least work out and run a 40 time and a couple shuttles to see if any mini camps come up. That's the main goal. It would be kind of cool to make a mini camp with the Vikings and say at least I tried. I'm going to do that."