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Roehl, Bison gear up for toughest season yet

It's never easy to come back from an injury.

It's going to be even tougher for Tyler Roehl and a host of North Dakota State's top starters for the 2006 football season.

Roehl, now in his third year with the program, missed all of last season recovering from a broken leg he suffered in practice. Wide receiver Travis White tore a ligament in his knee in the early part of last season. And quarterback Steve Walker blew out his ACL and MCL in the season finale against Southern Illinois.

All three are back, and face what their head coach calls the "toughest schedule the Bison have faced since our move to Division I."

"There are no slouches on that schedule, that's for sure," Roehl, a West Fargo grad and the 2003 North Dakota Class AAA Most Outstanding Senior, said. "We'll go out and take care of things week by week. That's all we can do."

The schedule opens innocently enough with a visit from Division II Concordia-St. Paul. That's followed up by a home date with Northeastern 17 days later. After that, however, the Bison hit the road for six of seven games, including two match-ups with Division I-A schools, Ball State and the University of Minnesota.

Of course, the date that Bison fans have circled on the calendar is Oct. 21, when the Bison will take on the U of M at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. It's not that every green and gold fan thinks the Herd can pull out the win, but to see if Bohl's Bison can hold their own.

Roehl, to his credit, knows there will be a sense of awe that comes with stepping in front of 40,000-plus at the Dome. However, he said once the whistle blows and the kick sails away, the game face will be on.

"It's going to be a great feeling," he said. "Stepping on that field will be the best feeling I've had as a player since winning state. It just shows that I've come a long way to get here. But when that first hit comes, I'll be ready to go. It will be just another game. And to play there twice is really a bonus."

Roehl hits on how far he's come with that sentiment, a tailback from West Fargo who now has the opportunity to shine at the Division I-AA level. His role increased, a bit, with the departure of Cinque Chapman from the NDSU program. Though he said his main mission is to open holes for senior back Kyle Steffes, Bohl said his sophomore stud will get more carries.

"He's a nice change of pace," Bohl said. "I think you'll see us take Kyle out at times and slip him back to tailback during some sustained drives. He's got good power, and can get you that short yardage. But he's capable of a big play, too."

Steffes, looking for a 2,000-yard season behind Roehl, said his backfield mate has some deceiving skills.

"You forget how fast he is," the former Dickinson standout said. "He can make that corner and turn it up field. I think he's been very impressive in practice so far. He's going to be a guy to look for this season."

Roehl sidesteps the accolades with his traditional modesty, saying that he knows he'll be the lunch-bucket guy.

"I just kind of put my hard hat on and go to work," he said. "I like playing fullback. What I do won't change all that much. I was lucky to get a lot of playing time my freshman year, a lot more than I expected, and I think I'm ready. It's been great to have a full spring of practice and now fall to get back into the flow of things. Last season was just kind of frustrating. Now I'm having fun."

He'll have a lot more fun if the Bison can find answers on both their offensive and defensive lines. While the offense looks all right, with three starters coming back into the fold, the defense is depleted, with just one starter on the line returning.

"It keeps me up nights," Bohl said.

But Roehl, giving his assessment, said the talent and motivation is there.

"Things are getting pretty physical in practice already. We have some guys who are pretty aggressive," he said.

As for that schedule, Bohl echoed his fullback's sentiments when he said the team just has to take it one week at a time.

"It's a little more aggressive then we planned for at this stage in our transition to Division I-AA," Bohl said. "But this is the most talented group I've been around since I've come to North Dakota State. This will be a great challenge."

The main goal, besides surviving this gauntlet, is to open the door to the Champions Room and earn the school's first conference championship in more than a decade. North Dakota State will have four games against Great West Conference foes, all stacked at the end of the schedule, culminating in a home date with South Dakota State on Nov. 18.

"Is that the only thing we're focusing on? No. But we've been in the conference for three years now and we think this year we have as good a shot to win it as anybody," Bohl said.

The Bison open their season at 7 p.m. on Aug. 31 against Concordia-St. Paul at the Fargodome.