Hometown running back helps put NDSU in national spotlight

Updated: October 24, 2007, 6:36 PM ET
Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. -- North Dakota State running back Tyler Roehl gave some thought to trying to play football for Minnesota. He filled out an information form and never heard back from the Gophers.

Not that it would've mattered. Roehl has always been a Bison at heart.

"I don't think there was ever any doubt that he was going to NDSU," said Roger Manske, Roehl's fourth-grade football coach who remembers him wearing a North Dakota State T-shirt the first day of practice.

As it turns out, Minnesota heard from Roehl.

The native of West Fargo rushed for a school-record 263 yards against the Gophers on Saturday to lead the Bison to their first victory over a Big Ten school.

The win kept NDSU at No. 1 in a coaches' poll for the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. Because the Bison are still making the transition from Division II to Division I, they aren't eligible for playoffs until next season. So the team is treating the poll like a mythical national championship.

"Our guys in our program are starving for national recognition," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said Wednesday.

Roehl helped them get a big dose.

He wasn't recruited by any colleges outside North Dakota after leading West Fargo to back-to-back state championships and had never left the Fargo area until he made his first road trip with the Bison to Greeley, Colo., for a game against Northern Colorado.

The Bison are thrilled to have the 5-foot-10, 229-pound Roehl. He epitomizes the team's no-nonsense offense, choosing on most occasions to run over tacklers rather than around them.

"Sometimes people say I should try to avoid a hit once in a while," Roehl said, smiling. "I'm still working on that a little bit."

One of his biggest fans doesn't get the chance to watch him play in person. Roehl sends DVD recordings of the games to his older brother, Ben, who is stationed in Iraq. The younger Roehl salutes his brother and other soldiers after each touchdown.

Manske started Roehl's career at running back, even though Roehl was one of the biggest kids on the fourth-grade team. "A fire hydrant on legs with great speed," said Manske, who gave Roehl the nickname "Diesel."

Manske said the fourth-grade team basically had one play.

"It was 'Hey diddle diddle, Diesel up the middle," Manske said. "It's still the same way now, but it's a lot more fun watching him do that against Minnesota."

Gopher head coach Tim Brewster called Roehl "a man's man."

"He actually unloads on the defender," said Pat Perles, NDSU's offensive coordinator. "He gives out a lot of punishment."

Roehl likes to credit his offensive line, but Perles said the admiration goes both ways.

"The linemen love working for him," Perles said. "The linemen will open holes for him but he breaks a whole bunch of tackles, too. That's a lineman's best friend. He'll make you look good."

Perles said opposing teams have been surprised to see Roehl has a tailback's speed in a fullback's body. Roehl scored NDSU's first touchdown against Minnesota by outracing a Big Ten secondary on a 77-yard run.

"I never thought I could outrun a fast kid from the Big Ten," Roehl said. "I kept looking up the Jumbotron during that run to see if they were going to catch me."

They didn't and Roehl became something of an overnight sensation.

"I have been getting messages on my computer from people from all over the place," Roehl said. "It's nice to make the highlight reel on ESPN, but I'm more excited about putting NDSU on the national map."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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