There was a one-sided conversation between Caledonia football coach Carl Fruechte and eventual star Casey Schultz that just might have done it.
It happened early in the 2019 season after another game won by the Warriors. But as far as Fruechte was concerned, Schultz hadn’t spent those 48 minutes playing much like a winner. At least not like the guy who Fruechte knew the 6-feet-4, 230-pound Schultz could become.
The coach let him know about it.
“I caught Casey in the hallway after that game, and I sort of chewed him out,” Fruechte said. “I expected more out of him. He is a tremendous athlete. I told him I thought he could be our next great player, like (former star defensive end) Zeke Ott. I had him as that caliber of athlete.”
What followed from Schultz were tears and a statement.
“He told me that no one had ever told him that before,” Fruechte said. “Since that day, we’ve just had a different kid. In the weight room he was then doing more, in drills he was doing more. He just took off.”
Next August, Schultz is going to take off all the way to the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks. That’s where he's accepted a Division I college football scholarship, something he'll put in writing on Wednesday.
Schultz is believed to be the only southeastern Minnesota player committing on National Signing Day, the first of two official college football signing days for high school players who will join Division I or II programs. Division III doesn't have an official signing day, though a few southeastern Minnesota players have already made it clear where they are headed. That includes Lanesboro defensive lineman Bodie Mayer to Wisconsin-River Falls and LeRoy-Ostrander running back/linebacker Isaac Collier to St. Olaf.
Another crop of players, which is likely to include Byron running back and Post Bulletin Player of the Year Austin Freerksen, and Rochester Century running back Isaiah Huber, will sign on Feb. 3. Freerksen has made a verbal commitment to Division II Minnesota Duluth and Huber to Division I Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Schultz is North Dakota-bound after having taken advantage of Fruechte’s criticism and tough love that late summer day in 2019.
“I didn’t always handle criticism well,” said Schultz, a star middle linebacker and offensive tackle this season. “But I am able to make it into a positive now, to just take it as coaching. After that conversation with (Fruechte), I got back to the fundamentals, like using my hands more. I started doing better with the simple stuff.”
The rest of that junior season, all of this summer as he trained, and through a senior season limited to three games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fruechte watched with a combination of pride and awe as Schultz went about his business.
Fruechte has directed plenty of ferocious players in his 25 years as Caledonia’s coach. He lists Schultz’s ferocity right near the top.
In three games this season, all of them wins by a Caledonia program that has now stretched its unbeaten streak to a nation-best 71 games, Schultz finished with 14 tackles and also returned an interception for a touchdown.
Minutes before games were played, Schultz could be found stalking his way up and down the sidelines, building himself into a frenzy.
Then he went out and played the same way -- frenzied.
“Our whole thing is to play relentlessly and at full speed,” Fruechte said. “Casey understands our defense. He comes downhill and just makes plays. And Casey is fast -- so much faster than what college coaches seem to give him credit for.”
At North Dakota, Schultz has been told that he’ll be moved from linebacker to defensive end. He thinks that will suit him well.
Schultz will be happy just to be playing again. His team missed out on so much of this season, including a chance to repeat as section and state champion. It was a difficult fall.
Football isn’t just another sport at Caledonia, it’s practically a way of life with the program’s year-round weight lifting and speed workouts.
Schultz had poured himself into all of that this past year, as usual. He’d also taken on more of a leadership role as a senior, helping arrange workouts and navigating all of the obstacles created by the pandemic.
All of it made him hungrier than ever to take that preparation onto the field.
While so many of the Caledonia seniors are still living with the frustration of having their prized season almost entirely taken away, Schultz is grateful that his football career is not over.
“It was hard because we wanted to do what all of the Caledonia teams before us had done (win a state title),” Schultz said. “We wanted to keep that tradition alive. I’m just lucky that I get to experience four or five more years of this. I feel so bad for all of the kids who had their seasons taken away.”
• • • • •
NATIONAL SIGNING DAY
What is it?: NCAA Division I and II football programs have two official days for recruits to sign National Letters of Intent. The first is Wednesday, the second is Feb. 3. Football players can also sign Division I letters on April 1 and Division II letters on Aug. 1. Division III and NAIA don’t have binding letters of intent in any of their sports.
How about the other sports?: Division I basketball signing dates are Nov. 14, Nov. 21, April 17 and May 15. Signing dates for the rest of Division I and II sports are Nov. 14 and Aug. 1.