The only way to know what the “the good old days” were like is by looking at them during a period that’s not so good.
Pete Stanton didn’t need to be reminded of the good old days of Dickinson State football in 1980s through early 2000s. When he was hired as head football coach to replace Hank Biesiot in December of 2013, he had been through the good and the bad as a former defensive back and longtime assistant coach at the North Star Athletic Association school.
Three years into his tenure as head coach, the Hawks are headed back toward the good, having made the NAIA playoffs the last two seasons. They were 9-3 last year and started this season with two wins, including a big one over Rocky Mountain College.
DSU had dominated the Battlin’ Bears until recent years as a member of the Frontier Conference. “We were excited by that win. For several years, we weren’t that close,” Stanton said of the Hawks’ 43-28 win.
Stanton, who is 24-10 as head coach, said he pointed his team toward the past to right the ship.
“We just needed to start thinking about the past a little bit,” Stanton said. “What we tried pushing to our guys is that there is a lot of tradition here and a lot of pride. We had so many great years under coach Biesiot, then when we had three years that weren’t good our players forgot about that. It was just getting them back into that mentality.”
He also built depth and a sense of ownership. Stanton said the Hawks have 20 offensive linemen on the roster and 55 players stayed around Dickinson over the summer to work out.
Having been an assistant for 14 years, Stanton had long been considered the heir-apparent to the legendary Biesiot before the changeover after the 2013 season. “We never talked about it,” Stanton said. “Hank and I never really discussed it up until the last year when he indicated he was going to retire.”
Stanton had a lot to live up to.
Under Bieisiot, the Blue Hawks won seven conference championships and appeared in the NAIA playoffs seven times between 2000 and 2010. In the 90s, there were five more titles and four playoff appearances. In the 80s there were five titles and four playoff berths. But there were no winning seasons, much less titles or playoff appearances, from 2011 to 2015.
The school, the coaches and a community that came to expect winning most of the time found themselves struggling through a series of changes that included a rare losing season, new conference affiliations, longtime rivals leaving the conferences and even the NAIA, and even a new coach.
During that time, however, Stanton was leaving a mark on the track and field program. His Blue Hawks teams won NAIA outdoor national titles three times (2004-05-06) and were runner-up five times (2003-07-08-09-10). He was coach of the year from 2003 to 2006.
“It was one of those things where I had a love for both sports,” Stanton said. “We had a good run in track but when coach Biesiot retired, football was going to be the choice when I could no longer do both sports. It was difficult to leave track because we had a good run.”
Now Stanton is focused solely on football – the past, present and future.
“One of the things learned from coach Biesiot was you have to be yourself,” Stanton said. “We knew having Arlan (former defensive coordinator Arlan Hofland) still with the program and Jace (offensive coordinator Jace Schillinger) coming in we still had the pieces to push forward. It was just a matter of my own identity. There will never be another coach Biesiot, but we have to put our own stamp on the program, too.
“You’ll see it’s not the same offense, but some of the same philosophy,” Stanton said. “The uniforms are different and the helmets are different but the bottom line is it’s still the same traditions and same program. We had a great tradition here and we just need to take that step.”
U-MARY FOOTBALL: Sophomore punter Bailey Meyer had a great start after a good year last year. Against Minnesota State Mankato, Meyer punted seven times, averaged 41.7 yards, had two longer than 50 yards and left three kicks inside the 20. Last season, Meyer averaged 35 yards and put 18 of 69 punts inside the 20 … U-Mary plays its second night game of the season Saturday at Wayne (Neb.) State. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
U-MARY VOLLEYBALL: Senior outside hitter Lauren Randall reached 1,000 career kills in a 3-1 women’s volleyball win over Valley City State. She is the school’s second player to reach that plateau at the Division II level behind Laci Murtha (2007-10). The Marauders open NSIC play at home Sept. 14 against Northern State.
U-MARY SOCCER: Senior Hannah Smith was named NSIC goalkeeper of the week after beating Minot State 2-1 on opening day. She made nine saves against the defending league champion, giving U-Mary its first win over Minot State since 2012. Smith is the first Marauder to win a weekly award in two years.
NORTH STAR: Dickinson State’s Jay Liggins, a 6-3, 205-pound junior defensive back from Bismarck, was named NSAA defensive player of the week in a 30-21 win over Valley City State. Liggins had two interceptions, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and made three tackles … The Blue Hawks play at Northwestern Iowa on Saturday.