Photos by Hillary Ehlen and special to Fighting Hawks Magazine
Former North Dakota offensive lineman and 2001 national champion Mac Schneider continues his political career with a campaign for United States Congress this year. We sat down with him to reminisce and discuss his political career.
How was that 2001 team so dominant?
It was a special team. I played offense, but I got to give credit to the defense. Across the board and two-deep, those guys were just ferocious. Guys like Travis O’Neel, Eric Schmidt and Mike O’Neil, those guys were just unstoppable. Unfortunately for us who played offense, we had to practice against them. The defense was really critical to that national championship. And offensively having leaders like Kelby Klosterman, Jeb, those guys are pretty easy to block for, they make you look pretty good. More than that, just a good group of guys who cared about each other, were involved in the community and really took being a good person as seriously as they did being a good football player. It’s a real lifetime honor to be a part of a group of guys like that.
How did being named a captain your senior season help you as you moved into professional life?
I think understanding team dynamics, understanding that people have different personalities, but you have to work together to accomplish a goal. That’s been very helpful, whether working in the state legislature or running a law office, you accept people for who they are and try to work together as best as possible in a way that leverages their strengths. In life, you re going to win some and lose some, but not letting anything get you too high or too low, keep things even keel.
Your freshman season, you played under coach Roger Thomas, he recruited you to UND too. The rest of your career was with Coach Lennon. What was that transition like?
If I had to describe both Coach Thomas and Coach Lennon in one word it would be integrity. These were coaches that demanded a lot out of you, but they also demanded that you be a good person, be involved in the community. So the coaching styles were similar in that way. Neither of them were screamers, but you absolutely wanted to give your all and play at your best because they were both such leaders and people of integrity. They got the best out of their players by motivating them in a positive way, you wanted to perform.
Obviously, UND and NDSU do not play for the Nickel Trophy anymore. What was it like playing in those games, especially since you played in some of the last Nickel Trophy games?
Things have changed, the nickname is different, we don’t play for the Nickel anymore, we’re temporarily in different conferences and at a different level of competition. The memories are still very vivid for me and my teammates. Going down to the Fargodome and playing the Bison my senior year and Fargo is my hometown, to hear 19,000 people yelling at the top of their lungs, the only thing I can compare it to is dunking down into a hot tub with the jets on. Those memories are a lot of fun. Things change, but no one can take those away. It’s part of the tradition, there will be a new chapter in the rivalry, but I feel very fortunate to have played a small part in the old rivalry.
Talk about that 2001 playoff run. You guys beat some premier Division II talent in UC Davis, Pitt State and Grand Valley State. How did you do it?
That UC Davis game really sticks out. J.T. O’Sullivan, who played quarterback for UC Davis and went on to have a pretty good career in the NFL, he came in with world-leading stats and was one of the best quarterbacks in Division II that year. Our defense essentially shut them out, I think we had a purposeful safety at the end of the game. That really is a very memorable experience, not only individually, but as a team too. Moving onto the championship game and the fans deserve a lot of credit. Those home games at the Alerus were big and we fed off their energy. It was a definite home-field advantage.
What were your memories from that championship in Florence, Alabama?
It was very vivid. To this day, I can remember the celebration on the field and the plane ride back. It was just a real, lifetime memory that you hold pretty closely. At the same time, this is not something we want to keep to ourselves. We want the University of North Dakota to go and win another championship in football. I was proud to see them win the Big Sky in 2016 and there are big things on the horizon. That’s the fun thing as an alum, it’s not about what you did back then, it’s about carrying on a tradition that continues to grow to this day.
Could you have ever seen UND moving to Division I?
There was always talk about that, but it wasn’t something we as players focused on. It sure is exciting to see them make the leap and have successes like winning a conference championship and hopefully that’s the first step in winning a national championship. It’s going to be exciting to see them in the Missouri Valley though. It’s like an NCC re-do.
What was your foray into politics?
I come from a family where a lot of us were involved in public service. My uncle John was in the legislature, my cousin Jasper later held a seat and now my mom represents that district in the legislature. Having been around public service and political campaigns it is something I was definitely interested in. The intensity and competition is similar to football and it’s enjoyable for that reason. I have always felt that it is very worthwhile to get together with someone who you might not agree with on every issue, but on any one given issue, you can find common ground and advance things and create a positive change. It’s a real honor to be a part of that process and it’s worth the work.
Talk about some of the rewards of being a politician.
It’s really when you look back and think that people have breathed easier because of a change you made. In the legislature, creating a student loan consolidation program that’s been taken to new levels by the Bank of North Dakota. It’s allowed North Dakotans to save tens of millions of dollars in interest rates, that’s a mortgage for a lot of young families. It’s a really satisfying feeling. The wins and the losses melt away after a while, but being able to make a change that helps people breathe a little easier is really rewarding.
What motivated you to get into the national race? What drove you to the United States House campaign?
I feel very honored to do it. Even a year ago, I didn’t think I’d have the chance to do it, but things just aligned business wise and family wise that allowed me to do it. I think what our country needs are more people who are willing to work with the other side, even if you might disagree on other issues. That’s the approach I try to bring and if you have the opportunity to compete to represent North Dakota in Congress, you have to jump at the chance. I have enjoyed every day on the campaign trail since then. It has been intense and exciting, and I’ve learned so much.
Win or lose on November 6, what are some things you learned from this big campaign?
What I’ve learned is that even if you’re a candidate, it’s not all about you. It’s about giving people a credible choice to go one direction or another. That is something that I’ll really take with me. To be one of two people competing for this important position, it’s a real honor. Whatever the people decide, they are the ones that decide. I am extraordinarily thankful for the support of my family, I’ve got a great day job that I love. We’re just going to keep working hard and if I get the job, I’ll do my best for North Dakotans.