Jay Liggins was 11 years old when he left Memphis, Tenn. He remembers it was a Thursday.
Just four days earlier, his mother had made an abrupt decision to move he and his 10 siblings across the country to escape inner-city violence and find a hometown more suitable for raising a large family.
Of all places, they ended up in Bismarck, N.D., a city one-tenth the size of Memphis in a state none of them had ever been to and knew little about.
“It was such a random decision,” Liggins said.
Yet it was one that became incredibly fateful to Liggins’ future, despite numerous challenges he would end up facing along the way.
Later this month, the former Dickinson State University standout cornerback will likely get an opportunity to be the first Blue Hawk signed by a National Football League team.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Liggins said. “It’s something I wanted to do, and the fact that it’s in front of me, I had to grab it.”
To them, he’s a “legendary” coach, a man who helped teach the meaning of humility and camaraderie, or someone who simply gave them a chance when no one else would.
To all of them, however, he’s coach Hank Biesiot.
“They just don’t make ‘em like him anymore,” said Randy Gordon, a longtime head football coach for Dickinson Trinity and a member of the first Dickinson State team Biesiot coached in 1976.
We’re a generation or more removed from the last time the Dickinson State football team had a season this bad.
Before Saturday, the Blue Hawks had never lost 10 games in a season.
It marked only the second time since World War II that a DSU football team has finished a season with one win. When the Blue Hawks were still the Savages in 1966 under head coach Orlo Sundree, they went 1-7. Sundree would only last one more season and DSU would go through two other coaches before promoting Hank Biesiot to the head position in 1976.
More than three decades of success followed. Few team records still stand that weren’t set in the Biesiot coaching era.
After less than one school year in the Frontier Conference, Dickinson State officials are mulling a move that would send its athletic programs to a proposed league consisting primarily of its former Dakota Athletic Conference rivals.
Kurt Patberg, a consultant representing five schools, contacted Dickinson State in late January to gauge the university’s interest in creating a new NAIA conference made up of teams in North and South Dakota.
DSU President D.C. Coston and athletic director Tim Daniel said Friday that the school is carefully examining what Patberg and the schools he represents have to say.
“We have to look at this,” Daniel said. “This affords us some opportunities to maybe address some problems that we are experiencing right now.”
Below is Press Sports Editor Dustin Monke’s conversation with Dickinson State University President D.C. Coston about Blue Hawk athletics for the story that appeared in Sunday’s edition of The Dickinson Press:
What are your feelings about athletics at Dickinson State and university-sponsored athletics in general?
Firstly, I enjoy collegiate athletics. I always have. Regardless of where I’ve been. All the way from being a student to the present, I try to get to as many events as I can just because of enjoying the competition.
I’ve also had the opportunity to witness, at a number of places, the visibility that athletics can create for the institution, as far as bringing a number of people to the institution. Hopefully we can find ways to showcase the rest of the university, using athletics as kind of a door opener with a number of people.
Another piece is when you have athletes, coaches and others who are obviously striving hard, having success and being very positive in the way they represent the institution, they can be a big part of helping the public perception of who and what an institution is. That’s some of the things we hope athletics can be at Dickinson State.
Frankly, you begin to look and a lot of times we think of athletes as athletes, and they’re student-athletes. We have something on the order of 400 young men and women that have been attracted to Dickinson State, who are in classes, doing well in classes and also happen to compete on the court or the field or whatever their particular event is. That’s very much a positive too.
Students come to universities for a number of reasons and we attract a lot of wonderful men and women because we do have an athletics program.