It’s a trip Warren Holloway said he’d never make again. And since the fall of 2007, he’s kept his word.
That first time, when he reported for camp as a true freshman at North Dakota State, he made the trek, hitting the road for 25 or so hours, winding his way up I-45 to I-35 to US-81. Houston to Fargo, N.D. It took him directly north, winding past the middle of the country and while it was beautiful scenery at times heading through Oklahoma City, Salina, Kan., Norfolk, Neb. and even Yankton, S.D., it doesn’t offer enough to make him want to do it again any time soon.
No, sir. Once is enough.
“It was terrible,” Holloway said Tuesday. “I was like ‘I’m never doing this drive again, never.’ I’m not a big fan of road trips.”
Now, he flies.
His dad, Terrell Holloway, has made the journey to Fargo. He flies, too. Once a year he’ll get up to the Fargodome to cheer for his son. And he’s made it to one other game each season, taking in the closest away game.
Warren’s mother, Toyann Timmons, has a little problem though. She isn’t so sure about the flying part, so the 2011 Homecoming game — a 20-10 NDSU victory against Illinois State — was the only time in Holloway’s career that she saw him play on his home turf.
After a 25-hour drive.
“My mother, [she’s] never been on a plane before, so she drove up for homecoming. Another long drive, which I wouldn’t make,” Holloway said with a slight laugh and complete honesty. “That’s love.”
But she’s been to the handful of games the Bison have played in Texas during his career. She’ll add one more on Jan. 7 as Holloway leads North Dakota State into its first FCS championship game against Sam Houston State in Frisco, Texas — only a five-hour drive from home.
She’ll be there as Holloway, a 6-foot-2, 199-pound fifth-year senior, attempts to become the second Bison in history to accumulate 1,000 receiving yards in a season. He has 988 yards on 75 receptions, a single-season Bison mark and six catches better than the record that had stood since 1993.
“Warren has been a great explosive weapon that we’ve not had for a couple years,” NDSU coach Craig Bohl said. “We’ve been basically a ground-dominated offense. What Warren gives us is a deep-play receiver. He’s got excellent body position when he’s going up for a football and he’s had many, many big plays. What that does is it forces defenses to loosen up their defense a little bit and allowed us to actually run the ball a little bit better. So the two feed off one another.”
Affectionately known to his teammates as ‘Big Tex,’ Holloway has some familiarity with the team he’ll go up against in Pizza Hut Park. The Sam Houston State campus is only about 45 minutes from where Holloway grew up. He even knew a little of the football program as a handful of his former varsity teammates at Galena Park High School went on to play for SHSU, but they’ve already graduated.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be some fun ribbing from the Bearkat crowd. Holloway’s brother, Andrew, is currently attending Sam Houston State.
“It feels good to get back home and play in front of some family and friends,” Holloway said. “Being so far from home, I didn’t get much opportunity to play in front of my family.”
And which team will his brother be rooting for?
“He said he’d root for me,” Holloway said with a chuckle.
Despite the extended break in playing time between the semifinals on Dec. 17 and the title game at the end of the first week of January, Holloway didn’t get a chance to get home. He spent the holidays with teammate and fellow wide receiver Ryan Smith and his family. The Smiths took Holloway into their Wahpeton, N.D., home for Christmas. They even got him a couple presents to feel part of the family.
Family is important to Holloway. It was part of the reason he was lured nearly 1,300 miles from home.
“I thought they care about football up here just as much as in Texas, so why not try to start something new?” Holloway said about his recruiting visit. “There’s a lot of tradition and I thought I could come up here and help the team out.”
Now he has a chance to go out on top. It’s also an opportunity he relishes as he gets a belated holiday gift with his parents in the stands one more time.
“With it just being my last game and to have the opportunity for my mom and dad to be there, [that’s enough],” Holloway said. “My mom, she’s not able to catch many games, and this last game will make up for all the games she couldn’t make it to with this being my last college game. She wanted to come to all the other games but at least she can make this last game.”
Need to Know
• Eastern Washington last year, Villanova a season before and Richmond in 2008 — each of the past three seasons produced first-time national champions. This will be the fourth consecutive season with a new name at the top of the playoff bracket.
North Dakota State, however, will gladly point out it wouldn’t be the school’s first championship in football. Seven times the Bison went to the Division II national title game – all in a span of 10 years – and NDSU came out the winner on five occasions. It’s been a while since the Bison have played for the crown — 1990 to be exact — but they hope the location for their first two championships provides a little familiarity. After all, those first two titles were won in the state of Texas.
• The format changed in 2010 when the championship game was first pushed back into January, providing a bit of a bowl-like atmosphere for the participating teams and fans. It’s been well received, both in the stands and locker rooms.
“From our perspective, [it gave us] some time to get the bumps and bruises healed up,” North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said Wednesday. “There have been a couple guys that are going to be able to join us for the championship game that were not able to play in a couple of these other games. There’s certainly an advantage on that part.”
But it’s not all positives. Bohl noted the loss of execution that could result from not following the daily repetition the players have followed since August. Teams are playing at a high level — Bohl noted the Bisons’ last game against Georgia Southern may have been their most well-played game since he took over in 2003 — and the break in practice could affect their timing.
“The challenge for us is to maintain our strength and conditioning and our execution at a high level during this period and still maintain a great focus,” Bohl said.
• NDSU has had a home-field advantage as the passionate fans have packed the Fargodome throughout the playoffs. A large number of Bison faithful are expected in the sold-out Pizza Hut Park (which will be renamed FC Dallas Stadium on Jan. 1), but it won’t be exactly the same.
In fact, it will be quite different as it will only be the second time this season North Dakota State is playing on natural grass. That point wasn’t lost on Bohl, who has coached at his share of top venues. Still he put the field the title game will be played is noteworthy.
“I had an opportunity to go down to Frisco and observe their field,” Bohl said. “I can tell you I’ve had an opportunity to coach in the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl and the Orange Bowl [while at Nebraska]. By far, this is the best field I’ve been on. I think the quality of play will be excellent and the field really is going to be an advantage to both teams. It’s a great, great, fast track.”
North Dakota State enters the FCS championship game with a 13-1 record with its only loss a 27-24 setback against Youngstown State … During the playoffs, NDSU has allowed just three touchdowns in three games, including only one score in the past eight quarters … the Bison rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (1st, 13.2 ppg), red zone defense (t-4th, 91 percent), turnover margin (5th, +1.29 tpg) and kickoff returns (7th, 24.1 ypr) … NDSU could have three 1,000-yard performers by the end of the championship game as RB Sam Ojuri already has 1,078 rushing yards while RB DJ McNorton enters the title contest with 981 yards on the ground and WR Warren Holloway has 988 receiving yards … McNorton needs just 54 yards to become the sixth player in North Dakota State history to rush for 3,000 yards in a career … CB Marcus Williams has seven interceptions this year and needs one more to tie the school single-season record … The Bison had 4,000 tickets in its allotment but administrators said it easily went through that total and could have likely sold another 6,000.
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