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Mark Edwards | The Anniston Star | January 6, 2016

FCS Championship: Jacksonville State focuses on itself, not 4-time champ North Dakota State

  Jacksonville State is playing for its first FCS championship in school history.

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. -- Just after Christmas break, Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins wandered into a team staff room, not realizing the squad's offensive coaches were meeting.

The meeting was wrapping up, so Jenkins didn't leave. Instead, he listened for a bit and noticed his coaches were discussing something about North Dakota State, which is Jacksonville State's opponent in Saturday's FCS national championship game.

Jenkins recalled how head coach Grass always says that JSU is playing a "faceless" opponent each week, never worrying about who the other team is.

"It's all about how we play," Jenkins told his coaches. "It's all about us."

Nationally, it probably doesn't seem that it's about Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks (13-1) spent most of the regular season ranked No. 1 and were seeded No. 1 for the FCS playoffs, but third-seeded North Dakota State (12-2) is aiming for its fifth straight national championship, and the storylines for this one likely will include plenty of discussion about the Bison chasing history.

The Bison consider it a homecoming when they travel to Frisco, Texas, the site of Saturday's game, and everyone on the team's roster has played on a national finalist every year he has been on the team.

They're probably going to have a lot more fans in the 20,500-seat Toyota Stadium, which is usually used for professional soccer. It hasn't been unusual for about three-fourths of the fans at past FCS championship games to be wearing NDSU green and yellow.

"We know it will be a packed house, and they'll probably have more fans than us," JSU defensive back Junior Hough said, "but for our team, it's all about us. We'll hone in on us as a team. That's what we need to worry about."

MORE: Full FCS playoff bracket

JSU's John Grass said when he was promoted from offensive coordinator to the Gamecocks' head coach after the 2013 season, he watched North Dakota State win an FCS championship. His purpose was to see how high the Bison had raised the bar.

That became Grass' measuring stick.

But this week, he is following the same message that Jenkins repeated back to him: "It's about how we play."

"We preach that in our guys and I think our guys will be ready for the challenge and ready to go out and play ball and have fun doing it," he said.

North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman acknowledges how much the school's run of championships mean. It's also clear how much he values the fan support his team gets.

Still, what will all that mean for this game? Klieman has no trouble answering that.

"Nothing once 11 o'clock hits," he said in a teleconference with reporters Monday. "It really won't. Once 11 o'clock hits, it's going to be two really good football teams going at it, and I think it's going to be a great four-quarter game."

This article was written by Mark Edwards from The Anniston Star and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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