NDSU Football Alumni Use Homecoming as Venue for Reunion

Former NDSU All-American strong safety Joe Cichy celebrates homecoming in the tailgating lot along with family and friends.

Former North Dakota State safety Wayne Schluchter recalls a time when now NFL head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars Gus Bradley showed his roots.

When Bradley was an assistant coach for the Seattle Seahawks, Schluchter was in town for business.

When he told former teammate Kevin Donnalley, who coached with Bradley at NDSU, he called Bradley for Schluchter.

Before he knew it, Schluchter had practice tickets waiting for him at the Seahawks’ admission office.

Schluchter walked onto the field during that practice, but didn’t want to bother Bradley.

So instead, Bradley took time to bother him.

“I said ‘Gus, you’re busy, go on,” Schluchter said. “He said ‘Hey man, once a Bison always a Bison.’ That’s one thing you’ll hear said over and over again, and it’s true. We’ll do anything for the Bison brotherhood.”

Bradley is seen as one of best young head coaches in the NFL, but Schluchter said he hasn’t forgotten where he’s came from.

“The guy is incredibly busy, but I know he would take the time out for any of his Bison brothers,” Schluchter said. “The eyes are upon Gus and certainly the old players are wishing good things for him and his career.

“He obviously learned a lot of things at NDSU that benefited him in the national spotlight of football.”

Alumni reunite

NDSU played its Homecoming game against Southern Illinois Saturday. The yearly event is an opportunity for past players and coaches to come together and celebrate their roots of college football.

Joe Cichy, an NDSU All-American strong safety in 1969 and 1970, said he has tickets to every Bison home game. He said Homecoming is good for football alumni and NDSU as an institution as well.

“I think there’s a pride the players take in performing well and playing hard,” Cichy said. “That’s been a tradition of Bison football is being a hard-nosed football team.”

Cichy, an inductee of the National College Football Hall of Fame, is a member of the Bison Hall of Fame with father, Sid. Joe Cichy’s brother even played with him in 1970.

Joe Cichy said it’s fun to pick up conversations with former teammates and past players while tailgating before games, especially at Homecoming with more alumni there.

“We talk about how great we were when we played,” Cichy said with a laugh. “We talk about a variety of stuff. We talk about the game, the team, when we played and the great time we had. It’s just fun to see one another.”

Team Makers Executive Director Pat Simmers, a former NDSU coach and player who saw his sons play as well, said Homecoming has an emphasis on former athletes.

“We want to maintain contact with as many alumni as we can,” Simmers said. “That’s really what Homecoming is all about: engaging those who finished their educations at North Dakota State and keeping them in touch with their alma mater.”

Simmers said about 50 former athletes who aren’t season ticket holders attend Homecoming, but more are there on a game-by-game basis.

“That’s an opportunity to bring back a number of former student-athletes back on campus and tell them the story of what is happening today,” Simmers said. “That’s why we have the percentage (of alumni attendance) at Homecoming, because you know you’re going to run into a bunch of people you’ve had experiences with.”

Simmers said his former teammates had a reunion of about 30 players last year, including former All-Pro New England Patriots linebacker Steve Nelson. These alumni flock from all over the country, whether it’s North Dakota, Minneapolis or Arizona.

“The things that student-athletes go through at a collegiate level is a different experience,” Simmers said, “which ends up forming different bonds and they become your life-long friends.

“This is an opportunity for us to bring them back to show them what’s changed at North Dakota State and to keep them engaged.”

Bison maintain bond

For Schluchter, who is now an assistant coach at St. Cloud Tech High School, Bison football is a universal bond.

“There were lifelong imprints made upon young men through Bison football,” Schluchter said. “That runs a wide array of impressions from deep friendships to respect to information and work ethic they still have in their daily walks of life.”

Schluchter, who attended a Homecoming committee meeting as an immediate past chair, said he wants to give back to the game.

He wants to teach his players how to outwork their opponents and that giving up on their goals is not an option.

“NDSU football has made a huge impact on my life and the lives of my teammates, coaches and fans,” Schluchter said. “It’s life lessons that are the takeaways, not the big plays or the schemes. It’s the fundamentals and the basics.”

Keeping in contact with his former teammates and coaches, Schluchter said, is a high priority in his life.

And that tradition has been passed on, Schluchter said.

And like Bradley’s case, that tradition isn’t easily forgotten either.

“It’s a tremendously special bond,” he said. “It’s difficult to describe, but I can tell you it’s deep and I would do anything for that group of very close of friends. I would literally do anything for those men, and I know they would do anything for me, if asked.

“I see that in the relationships of other Bison football players. I know they are the same way: If you need anything, ask and we’ll do it.”

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