Sam Ojuri of North Dakota State rushes for yardage in a game against Illinois State earlier this season. NDSU is 10-1 with a second-round playoff game on Saturday.
Photo courtesy of Robert A. Nelson/NDSU
North Dakota State running back Sam Ojuri, here making a move against rival South Dakota State, has played a key role as for the 10-1 Bison. While splitting time with a senior running back, Ojuri has piled up a team-leading 781 yards this season. The No. 4-ranked Bison play a second-round playoff game on Saturday.
Photo courtesy of Dennis Hubbard/NDSU
Sam Ojuri felt close to home when he was in Macomb a couple of weeks ago.
It was a chance for the North Dakota State redshirt sophomore running back to perform in front of his parents and four of his football coaches when he played at Barrington High School.
And it could not have gone better as Ojuri rushed for 128 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Bison clinched a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title in a 37-21 victory over Western Illinois.
"It was cool," Ojuri said. "I got to have the ball in my hands a couple of times and made a couple of things happen. It was a neat homecoming for me."
This was also a long way from a year earlier when Ojuri contemplated coming home with an uncertain future. Disciplinary reasons had sidelined Ojuri from being a part in North Dakota State's first Football Championship Subdivision postseason appearance and run to the quarterfinals.
But the 2008 Daily Herald All-Area pick didn't run from his problems. Instead, he has rushed for a team-leading 781 yards with 8 touchdowns to help North Dakota State earn a No. 4 FCS ranking and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs when it hosts a second-round game with James Madison (8-4) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Fargo.
Senior defensive lineman Scott Stoczynski (Hoffman Estates) has also played a key defensive role for the Bison. Freshman punter Ben LeCompte (Barrington) and freshman linebacker Nick Scoliere (Marmion) are also on the roster.
"We've worked really hard to get to the spot we're in," Ojuri said. "Now we have to take advantage of the spot we've earned."
Ojuri has done that with his second chance at North Dakota State. After rushing for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman, he wound up on the outside looking in last year because of team rules violations.
"It was probably the most depressed I've ever been, watching my teammates go out and play and having to watch on the sideline," Ojuri said. "I was totally exempt from the team and the only thing I could do was lift weights with the redshirt freshmen.
"It was me being young and not mature and I had a couple of off-field issues that needed to be addressed."
Ojuri said he was given the option in the summer of 2010 to stay at North Dakota State while he was suspended or transfer. He sought the advice of Barrington head coach Joe Sanchez, who attended the game at Western with assistants Todd Kuklinski, Tim Norwood and Gary Rizzio.
"He and I had a lot of heart -to-hearts (talks) on what's the best thing for him," Sanchez said. "I gave my opinion but he made the ultimate choice. I told him they weren't going to keep him on scholarship unless he meant a lot to them.
"He's a better man for it and I'm really proud of him for sticking with it."
Ojuri said the support from people such as Sanchez and North Dakota State running backs coach Tim Polasek carried a lot of weight.
"I was really close to leaving," Ojuri said. "When I talked with coach Sanchez he said you have to be a man and face your problems.
"I decided to come back here and man up and get through it."
Ojuri was reinstated for spring camp and has helped ease some of the workload on senior D.J. McNorton (681 yards, 11 touchdowns). And Ojuri has used the lessons he's learned on and off the field to handle the increased role.
"I promised myself when I got back I would do the best I can to show the coaches they recruited the right person," Ojuri said. "I wanted to exceed my expectations and their high expectations."