There was something missing at Gate City Bank Field on Friday when the West Fargo Sheyenne Mustangs played in their first Dakota Bowl at the Fargodome.
Nate Goldade, a standout running back who rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns during his junior season, was watching his team play for a Class 3A state title from the sidelines, like he’s done all year.
Goldade was injured at a basketball team camp in June when he went up for a layup and his knee buckled. He didn’t know it was a torn ACL until about a week later.
He elected to play through the injury at first, initially passing on a surgery scheduled for July. Goldade made it through a few football practices, but his knee kept buckling under him.
Hearing he needed what would be a year-ending procedure was devastating.
“I got my hopes up thinking I'd be able to play again, but then all of a sudden it started buckling on me,” Goldade said. “It was very heartbreaking at that time.”
Goldade, the state’s leading rusher and scorer in 2018, wasn't able to suit up for Friday’s state championship game. Instead, he was on the sidelines in a letterman’s jacket.
“It's not a good feeling, exactly,” Goldade said. “It's very heartbreaking. But, I'm very proud of how our team has been playing and how well they’ve played together. Even though I’m not out there, it’s an awesome thing to watch.”
Goldade missed his entire senior season, but he still got excited on game days when his team would run through an inflatable blue and orange helmet for home games.
“I still get the butterflies in my stomach every Friday, and right before we’re about to run out of the helmet and everything," he said.
Goldade still got the pregame jitters, but the nerves were a little bit different now that he’s unable to play.
“It's a lot of trust now because I can't go out there and impact the game. It makes me nervous, but then again, I'm very confident in our team,” Goldade said ahead of the state title game.
Six weeks out from his Sept. 30 surgery, Goldade has about seven or eight months to go until he can play contact sports again. Despite the major setback with his injury, Goldade was still proud of his team.
“I'm very happy for these guys. I've been playing with some of them since I was in fourth grade,” he said.
"You know, it's a great feeling even though I'm not playing. I'm very happy for them," he added. "They deserve it.”
The phone call
Goldade sustained his injury the week before college summer football camps, which is where a lot of kids get noticed and recruited. Goldade was planning to participate in the camps, and was hopeful something would happen.
“Once I couldn’t play in those camps or finish off my senior season, I was kind of left questioning where I’d end up and what would happen,” Goldade said. “I was very nervous about it, and scared, too.”
When Goldade got the call from North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz in October, he didn’t know exactly where he was in the recruiting process and if he’d be able to play somewhere.
Goldade received a preferred walk-on offer, and verbally committed to the seven-time NCAA Division I FCS champions.
“It’s pure excitement,” he said. “Now that I got more years of playing the game that I love and that I thought I was done with and couldn't play my senior year, it's a big relief knowing that I'll be able to play again.”
North Dakota State has always been at the top of his list, and Goldade knew before the conversation was over that he was going to accept.
“I have always wanted to go there. Ever since I was little, I’ve been going to some Bison games with family and watching them play over the years,” he said. “On Saturdays I always sit down and watch the games. I've been familiar with their team and I love what they're about.”
The Sheyenne product didn’t need much of a recruiting pitch to play for the Bison. He was already sold.
“After my visit I had there [to NDSU], I knew that was the right place for me as soon as I stepped into their facilities and got to know the coaching staff and everything. It felt like home,” he said. “So that’s how I knew it was the one.”
Goldade also received scholarship offers from Minnesota State Moorhead and the University of Minnesota-Crookston.
East Region powerhouse
The Mustangs controlled their own destiny this season. Sheyenne clinched the Eastern Dakota Conference title for the second season in a row, tallied the most team points of any East Region team and boasted the best conference record (10-2).
Each player bought into the program before the season even started, and the hard work was paying off, Goldade said.
“I think it started in the offseason,” Goldade said. “We had a lot of guys up in the weight room in our class, the junior class and some of the sophomore class even. We’ve been pretty much living in the weight room. So that’s helped.”
This year was the furthest the Mustangs had ever made it.
“There’s something about our team chemistry this year, it just seems very right. It’s a great thing to see,” he said.
Goldade said from the sidelines, he noticed his team had improved a lot throughout the course of the season.
Sidelined on the court
Goldade won’t be able to suit up for his final basketball season, either. He said he’ll still be with the team and going to every practice, but helping out with coaching instead of on the court.
The two-sport standout isn’t allowed to play contact sports until around June or July.
Two weeks ago — four weeks after his surgery — was when he could finally walk without crutches or a brace.
Goldade goes to the Mustangs practices for a bit each day, and then heads to Sheyenne’s weight room to do upper-body lifting and physical therapy. He sees his physical therapist once a week.
Right now, they’re working on strengthening his leg, trying to get it back to normal, with the hopes that come summertime, he’ll be on the field in a Bison practice jersey.