When quarterback Sean McGuire targeted Jaelon Acklin late in the Bison’s 24-12 win over Western Illinois, it was clear right away he erred in his judgment. First of all, McGuire was attempting to fit a ball in between four Bison defensive backs. His second mistake was throwing in the vicinity of senior free safety Tre Dempsey.
Dempsey, lurking downfield, swooped in and grabbed his fourth interception of the season. Game over.
The ability to make plays such as this is what has made Tre Dempsey, senior captain and free safety from Lakeland, Florida, an indispensable defensive back for the Herd.
“That’s what I look to do. I try to be an impact player on our team,” Dempsey said of the pick. “I feel like that’s one of the reasons I was voted captain: to be looked up to in those type of moments in the game. We need a play, and that’s what I look to do every time, every game.”
His leadership as a captain also has the Bison at 7-0 and in control of their own destiny. Being elected captain for the second consecutive year is an honor Dempsey holds in high regard.
“It’s a really big honor because of what previous captains have meant to these teams and how they’ve led these teams,” Dempsey said. “Knowing how I was when I was an underclassman, looking up to them, I feel like the same is (done) with me. I take a lot of pride in this group.”
Dempsey has adopted a vocal style of leadership in his role as leader of the best pass defense in the Missouri Valley. “I get to know my teammates,” Dempsey said. “That’s why I can talk to them. Some leaders just lead by example; they don’t get to know their teammates. I try to get to know all my teammates personally, so when I do say something they won’t take it out of context and they know that it’s coming from me and not what somebody is trying to tell them to do.”
While Dempsey and his Bison teammates are happy with their undefeated record and perch atop the conference, they know there is still work to be done.
“We are happy being 7-0, but we’re not trying to get complacent at all,” the captain explained. “We don’t even look at it as, ‘We’re on top right now.’ We look at it as, ‘Be 1-0 and win every day.’ We won’t fall into that complacent mindset of being undefeated right now, and already having control of the conference. That’s not the mindset we want to have. We want to get better every day and keep attacking the process.”
Dempsey and the Bison have embodied the ethos of “dominating” all season. NDSU has silenced their opponents and leads the Missouri Valley in many key defensive categories. The domination the Herd have shown on the field stems from owning the build up to each game. “By the way we practice, by the way we lift weights, by the way we train, watch film. We’re always trying to dominate the moment and take full advantage of it,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey has raked in accolades over the past two years. Dempsey was named to the 2016 All-Missouri Valley first team as well as the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) first team All-America. A promise Dempsey made to former Bison running back John Crockett kept him motivated in his pursuit of All-America honors.
“I had made a deal with John Crockett that I would do it and he was holding me accountable to it. So I did it,” Dempsey said. “I was really proud of myself, and he was really proud of me. It’s something that he did and I told him I was going to do in my junior and senior year, and that’s my goal again. I was really happy with it.”
The same motivation driving NDSU as a whole is motivating Dempsey as well. The ball-hawking safety leads the conference in interceptions, but listed tackling as an area in which he feels he needs to do a better job.
Still, Dempsey remains confident in his coverage skills and had a warning for opposing quarterbacks. “I feel like if they throw it my way, I’m definitely in the zone that I need to be in right now. It won’t be smart for the other team,” Dempsey remarked.
Aware of the Bison’s No. 2 spot in the FCS Coaches Poll, and who is above them, Dempsey indicated that he and his teammates do not lose sleep over the rankings. “As long as we’re taking care of our business, controlling what we can control, we can’t control what everybody thinks about us. We don’t really care. What we care about is winning games and what goes on in our locker room.”
Coming from the Sunshine State to Fargo was an easy transition for Dempsey to make, except for the climate. “The big brothers on this team are like a family,” Dempsey said. “From my visit to as soon as I got here, they really looked out for me. The biggest struggle was the weather, but the people have my back and I love them for it.” Dempsey counted Crockett, Marcus Williams and Brendin Pierre among the Bison who took him in.
Dempsey attributes his faith in God to his current place in life. “He led me to North Dakota from Florida. I mean, what are the chances?” Dempsey opined. “I feel like it was all a part of His plan for me, and I feel like I’m doing what He’s telling me to do and I’m doing a good job at it.”
Still further on the horizon, Dempsey’s ultimate hope is to play in the NFL, something he thinks about all the time. “That’s one of my goals,” the senior said. “That’s the level I’m trying to reach: the professional level. It’s been my dream for a long time. I’ve got to keep getting after it, and I believe that I’ll achieve that.” Seeing teammates such as Crockett, Williams and Carson Wentz playing on Sundays reassures him that with the combination of playing at a high level and following their model, he too can reach the professional level.
While the prospect of a spot on an NFL roster looms, Dempsey does not look past this season’s objectives. With Tre Dempsey captaining a defense that is again the best in the conference, the Bison are proving their championship worthiness with each passing week.