Defining Success in the NFL and After

Former Bison fullback Chad Stark shares how NDSU set him up for success on and off the field.

By Micaela Gerhardt | September 29, 2021

It was around 12:30 a.m. when Bison fullback Chad Stark ’88 heard his name called by the New York Giants in the 12th round of the 1987 NLF draft. He spoke briefly with Coach Bill Parcells over the phone, called his family to share the good news, and went to bed.

“It was a long day!” Chad said. “I was elated to be drafted — it was a dream come true.”

What led up to that late-night phone call from the Giants’ head coach amounts to some of the most influential years of Chad’s life — his time as a student at NDSU and member of the Bison’s offensive machine, where Chad says he developed discipline, humility, compassion, and drive.

“The Bison football culture has helped so many of us become successful,” Chad said. “We were taught victory and defeat, and we felt loved regardless of the outcome. There is no question that my worldly successes are directly related to the lessons taught to me at NDSU.”

In 2000, he and his wife, Jennifer, began making an annual gift to the Chad Stark Scholarship in support of football student-athletes at NDSU. In 2019, they established an endowment, wanting to make their scholarship permanent. Chad wants to give back to NDSU for all it’s given him, both personally and professionally. He also wants to extend the same wonderful opportunities he had to current students.

“Those are some of the driving factors that make me want to continue the NDSU legacy, and I’m excited to do it,” Chad said. “I’ve gotten so much more out of NDSU than I could’ve possibly imagined.”

Chad went to high school in Brookings, South Dakota, but NDSU managed to recruit him right from South Dakota State’s backyard. Guided by experienced coaches and a strong senior class, Chad, fellow freshman Jeff Bentrim, and redshirt freshman James Molstre helped lead the Bison to their first victory in the NCAA Division II Football Championship in 1983.

“Central State of Ohio was a bigger and faster team, and we didn’t know how we’d match up with them,” Chad said, “but boy, I mean, the seniors led us to incredible victory. That was our first experience down in Texas; we’re freshmen, wide-eyed, and trying to take it all in. It was quite an experience.”

The Bison made it to the championship game again in 1984 but were denied a consecutive NCAA Division II title when the Troy University Trojans scored a 50-yard field goal, ending the game with a one-point victory over NDSU. The following year, everything changed.

In “1985: The Oral History of the Most Resilient Bison Football National Championship Team,” Joe Kerlin writes,

Chad Stark, #26, runs the ball in the 1984 NCAA Quarterfinals.
NDSU beat UC Davis 31-23.

1985 was supposed to be the Bison’s year. The backfield trio of Jeff Bentrim, Chad Stark, and James Molstre were returning for their junior seasons and Don Morton was the hottest football coach in America. Then, the tide shifted with a potentially crippling off the field distraction.

Head football coach Don Morton took a job with the University of Tulsa.

What followed can only be described as a rollercoaster season of wins and losses that ended with a major win against the University of North Dakota. After their show-stopping 49-0 win, the Bison packed up their bags, believing their season had ended, and headed home for Thanksgiving break.

Chad was at church with his dad and brother when it was announced that NDSU had actually made it to the playoffs. His mom had stayed at home for some reason he doesn’t remember, and when Chad returned, she came running to tell him the unexpected news.

On the playoff trail, NDSU beat the University of California, Davis in the Quarterfinals and then went head-to-head with the University of South Dakota, who had left a bitter taste when they beat the Bison earlier that year. NDSU emerged not only with a 16-7 win, but also one of the greatest plays in Bison history, “The Block that Led to the Pitch.” Chad, #26, made the block that helped Jeff Bentrim, #1, make it to the outside. When Bentrim got tripped up, he pitched the ball to James Molstre, #38, who ran in for a touchdown.

Chad Stark, #26, in the championship game vs. North Alabama in 1985.

This qualified NDSU for the championship game. Coming off a momentous win, the Bison faced North Alabama. While North Alabama had incredible athletes, Chad said NDSU was grounded in the team concept, where everyone prioritized working well together. The Bison defeated North Alabama 35-7 and took home their second NCAA Division II National Championship title — and they couldn’t be stopped. As a senior in 1986, Chad assisted the Bison with a 10-0 record and a third Division III championship title over USD.

“If I’ve learned anything from athletics, it’s about life,” Chad said. “You’re taught a lot about winning but you’re taught a lot about losing, too, and how to handle that, how to go through adversities.”

Chad went on to play in the NFL for three years. At that time, former Bison wide receiver Stacy Robinson played for the Giants and former NDSU football coach Ron Erhardt served as their offensive coordinator.

“There were a few familiar faces at camp, but that didn’t make it any easier blocking the likes of Harry Carson, Carl Banks, and Lawrence Taylor — that made my NDSU degree look a lot more enticing,” Chad said. “I certainly enjoyed my experience, but my success in life hasn’t come because of my professional NFL career — it’s because of what I was able to learn and accomplish at NDSU from an academic and athletic standpoint.”

Chad graduated from NDSU with a B.S. in business administration. He was also a three-time Academic All-Conference selection, an accomplishment he remains proud of today.

“I’ve been blessed with so much — an incredible family of four kids and four grandkids, a successful business career, unconditional friendships and an unearned, grace-filled faith,” Chad said. “I’ve been tested in each one of these blessings, but the lessons I learned at NDSU helped me persevere and thrive.”

As Chad continues to watch Bison football players rise to prominence in the NFL, he is proud of their success as well as their efforts to be good ambassadors of NDSU. He’s equally proud of those student-athletes whose professional careers take a different route.

“The great thing about NDSU, and we’ve proven it over the last couple years, is that you have the same opportunity to get in the NFL as a lot of these FBS schools, but you’ve also got an incredible university that gives you an education and a culture and tradition of kids who want to get their degree,” Chad said. “Not everyone will be a professional athlete, but they’ll be a professional engineer, or farmer, or businessman — and I think that really sets us apart.”

The 1985 NDSU Homecoming program. NDSU beat South Dakota State 41-7.

Gearing up for another exciting season of Bison football, Chad has quite the betting line with his family and friends in Brookings and is looking forward to NDSU going head-to-head against South Dakota State. He’s also excited for the game against UND, which was a significant rivalry when he played for the Bison.

“You look at how the excitement permeates into the community, and you don’t have to be an NDSU student-athlete to feel it,” Chad said. “You look at the In Our Hands campaign that has raised nearly $440 million for NDSU — people don’t give money to a university they’re not proud of academically and athletically. I think that’s a telltale sign of how successful NDSU is, that people find a way to help out and give back.”

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If you would like to contribute to the Chad Stark Scholarship Endowment or receive information on how to fund your own endowment, contact Jack Maughan, NDSU senior associate athletic director, at 701.231.8984 or Stefanie Kelly, director of athletic development, Twin Cities, at 612.270.6171.

North Dakota taxpayers are eligible for a 40% state tax credit for contributions to an existing endowment or upon establishing an endowment.

In Our Hands: The Campaign for North Dakota State University, has raised nearly $440 million dollars for student scholarships, faculty research, student-focused programs, and facilities. You can make your gift to help enhance the NDSU experience at InOurHandsNDSU.com. The campaign will conclude Dec. 31, 2021.