It is hard to imagine North Dakota State without Bison athletics, but there was a time when that was the case. NDSU, or back in the day NDAC (North Dakota Agricultural College), was founded in 1890 and the first football game did not take place until 1894.
Naturally, the only reason the game even took place was to beat the University of North Dakota. That is who Henry Bolley challenged to a game back in 1890. Bolley was a founding member of a future Big 10 program in Purdue. There was one issue however: the coach did not have enough players until 1894 when he became the first coach of the NDAC Farmers. He successfully defeated UND.
The first real season of Bison football took place in 1902, when the NDAC Aggies took the field. At the helm, the Aggies had a living legend in Eddie Cochems. Cochems was considered the father of the forward pass and planned a team around his conception. NDAC proved to be his lab for experimentation for the then illegal play, which resulted in him losing just one game in two years in North Dakota. The forward pass would become legal in 1906, but after Cochems had moved on to the University of St. Louis.
After Cochems departure, NDAC took another key figure of the forward pass on as coach. This time it would be Paul Magoffin. The former halfback from Michigan was the first player ever to catch a forward pass. Magoffin spent just one season in Fargo.
The first non-football head coach came in 1918, when Ralph Movold took the reins for one season. He rolled to a 9-5 record before being replaced by Stanley Borleske the next year.
The first coach to win 20 games at NDAC was Borleske. Over a course of six seasons, Borleske compiled a record of 20-18-5. Perhaps more importantly, Borleske ushered in a new era for NDAC. Members of the football team did not like being called the Aggies, so Borleske moved to change the name to Bison. The change occurred and before he left for Fresno State, he also coined the term “Thundering Herd.”
NDAC would officially be affiliated with a conference in 1922 when it joined the newly formed North Central Conference. The Bison won their first conference championship in 1925.
If not for the rise of football on campus, another sports may not have progressed early. The men’s basketball program started at NDAC in 1906, and for over 20 years, shared similarities with the football program.
Out of the first eight basketball coaches, six of them also coached the football team. Included in that list is the first head coach, Gil Dobie. Dobie would compile a record of 17-5 as the basketball coach from 1906 to 1908 in the first two seasons of the program.
Dobie became one of the most dominant coaches in national college football history. After going undefeated in two seasons in Fargo, he would need only 101 more games to reach the 100-win mark. He would hold the record for fewest games to win 100 games at 108, a record held until 2014.
Ion Courtright was the last man to coach both teams. Courtright would deliver a record of 22-3 on the court, and 13-8-2 on the gridiron while bringing home the first conference championship in his first year as football head coach.