I remember when North Dakota State announced its signing class in February of 2013. There were two defensive backs from Florida listed. One was Tre Dempsey. The other was Chris Board.
People said Dempsey was too small (and he was pretty dang small when he got here around 160 pounds), but that guy could hit – and he could play football. Board, on the other hand, was not small. As a matter of fact, I remember saying to John Richardson, an NDSU Defensive Assistant at the time, “Who’s 36? For a freshman, that kid is huge.” Well, #36 at the time was Chris Board. He came in at 6’1” and 205 pounds – and was bigger than some of the older linebackers on the team.
Board redshirted his first season and played mainly special teams, then got his opportunity to start on defense at strong safety as a sophomore. It didn’t go all that well for Board. He made four starts, missed some fits, made some mistakes, and was moved to outside linebacker in November 2015.
The story for Board could have ended there. He could have gotten bitter, upset and frustrated, losing his starting spot on defense and having to learn a new position. At the time, I know Board was disappointed, but he got over it, accepted his new role on the team, and did his best to figure out how he could help.
Quietly, Board became a constant force on special teams. He was one of top tacklers on kickoff and punt coverage units and I fondly remember some big hits along the way that had us chuckling up in the broadcast booth.
His junior year, he played in 13 of 14 games, made two starts late in the season and, once again, was the co-leading tackler on special teams with nine, all on kickoff duty.
During his senior year, Board topped the depth chart as a starting outside linebacker, finally getting an opportunity to be an every down player again. He made six starts and things were going pretty well, until he got hurt and had to miss two games. While Board was out nursing a knee injury, a redshirt freshman named Jabril Cox emerged. So, when Board was finally healthy enough to play again, he moved from sam linebacker to will linebacker, which can be challenging. The run fits, assignments and responsibilities are different. Board accepted the role, filling in admirably for the injured Levi Jordheim.
From there, this safety turned outside linebacker, tied for the team lead with 23 tackles including 13 solo stops in the Bison’s four playoff games. His biggest impact may have been in his final game, the national championship victory over James Madison University (JMU). He had two of his four tackles going for lost yardage plus a third-down pass breakup that led to a missed field goal. By the way, nine of his 10 special teams tackles in his senior season came on the kickoff team. Yes, he was still on special teams his senior year.
I remember thinking, “You know, that Chris Board had a good career here. Never got much attention but that kid was really solid.” I re-watched the national title game vs. JMU and tweeted how well Board played in that game. He really was an important factor. I also thought that would probably be the last time I saw him play football again.
Then in March, NDSU’s Pro Day was set with roughly 10 seniors set to perform for pro scouts. Chris Board was there, most eyes were on teammate and fellow linebacker, Nick Deluca, as he appeared to be NDSU’s best shot at a draft pick. After the Pro Day finished, Dempsey, Deluca, Nate Tanguay and Jeff Illies were brought over to the media scrum for interviews. To my knowledge, nobody talked to Board afterwards. Not many thought he’d get a shot at the next level. He was just flying under the radar, much like he did most of his career in Fargo.
But one person did take notice, Baltimore Ravens Special Teams Coach and former NDSU linebacker, Jerry Rosburg. Rosburg was in to speak at the NDSU’s coaching clinic and attended the Pro Day. A few weeks later, when the NFL Draft concluded, Board announced he had signed a free agent contract with the Ravens. I thought “Alright, Chris!” Well, it all made sense. A special teams coach saw a special team standout and added him to the roster. Teams invest very little (by NFL standards) into undrafted free agents, so why not give this kid a shot. He knows all three linebacker positions, is a solid 230 pounds and can run well.
As training camp started, I checked in on Board once a week and searched his name out on Twitter to see if there was any chatter. Well, there was a lot of chatter actually. Fans and media members started noticing this undrafted kid from North Dakota State for his ability to make plays on special teams. Now he has made a few mistakes here and there (missing a tackle or getting a penalty), as any rookie does, but he has given himself an opportunity to make a 53-man roster or at the very least, earn a spot on the practice squad. Why? Because he always embraced his opportunities on special teams and worked to be the best linebacker he could be.
There was one tackle in particular on kickoff coverage in the Hall of Fame Game against the Bears about a month ago, where he hit a return man and dropped him to the ground immediately. Most players would get up and jump around. Board picked himself up off the ground and jogged back to the defensive huddle. He’d made that play dozens of times in his career at NDSU, so it was just another special teams tackle to him. No big deal. That’s the story of Chris Board. Just show up, do what you are asked and do it as well as you can.
Board graduated from NDSU in December 2017 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, so when football is over, an employer in that field should call him immediately. If you need a reference, Chris, you can put my name on your resume.