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Mayo's Holcomb, Byron's Durst find homes at Winona State

It was a frustrating recruiting process at times but the two area standouts prove hard work and patience gets rewarded.

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Mayo's Cayden Holcomb (12) carries the ball during a high school football game against John Marshall Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, at John Marshall High School in Rochester. Holcomb has committed to play football at Winona State University.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

The recruiting process can be a tedious one for any high school athlete.

One doesn't have to tell Mayo's Cayden Holcomb and Byron's James Durst that.

But in the end their patience and hard work have been rewarded.

After a recruitment that tested their patience, both Holcomb and Durst have found new homes with first-year coach Brian Bergstrom and Winona State University.

But it felt like a long road to get there for the two.

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Mayo's Smith finds perfect fit at Northern State

Cayden Holcomb mug.jpg
Cayden Holcomb

For Holcomb, after a sophomore and junior seasons that saw him put up 1,385 yards receiving on 98 receptions in 17 games, his only offer came from Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s University of Mary, the July before his senior season. He was talking with schools but the offers weren't coming.

“The main thing to the entire process was just a little bit of you know, frustration about being under recruited and stuff,” Holcomb said. “Just knowing what I’m capable of and my family and I knowing that too.”

Durst, had two Division III offers from Augsburg University and then University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire. But with the blend of size (6-foot-5), speed and athleticism (three-sport athlete), it was puzzling why the Bears’ talented tight end wasn’t getting more recognition.

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Durst

“I was kind of getting nervous because I wasn't really getting too much attention from coaches,” Durst said.

Yet, both Holcomb and Durst focused on the only thing they could control: Their play on the field.

With a chip on his shoulder, Holcomb put up video-game type numbers, finishing with 74 catches, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was enough to get him named to the Vikings All-State team, the Minnesota All-Star Game as well as being selected as the Southeast Minnesota Male Athlete of the Year at the Rochester Sports Banquet.

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It also led to two more offers in Winona State and Southwestern Minnesota State University.

Durst earned first-team All-District honors, finishing the season with 33 catches for 476 yards and eight touchdowns. He proved too, he was a strong blocker, while also playing both sides of the ball for Byron.

However, for both, their great seasons didn’t exactly lead to what they envisioned.

Holcomb had received the two offers, but talks with SMSU had slowed a bit and with the retirement of coach Tom Sawyer, it would be a primarily different coaching staff that didn’t recruit Holcomb.

Meanwhile, Durst took a visit to Winona in Nov. but was still waiting on a Division II offer.

Then the calendar flipped.

When January came, Durst became a hot commodity.

He picked up three offers in a span of 12 days from Northern State University, University of Sioux Falls and WSU.

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“It was definitely a lot to think about,” Durst said. “January came around and I went on my official visit to Northern and all of a sudden, the other coaches really wanted me too.”

January also saw former South Dakota State University co-defensive coordinator Brian Bergstrom take the reins at Winona State in a great hire by the Warriors.

Bergstrom made it a priority to get Holcomb.

“As soon as he got hired, he came to my house,” Holcomb said. “Coach Berg, he’s awesome. He’s the coolest guy. He’s really, really personal with everything that he says.

“I really felt like they wanted me.”

Bergstrom then brought on former Caledonia High School and Rochester Community and Technical College star receiver Isaac Fruechte as the new offensive coordinator. The former Minnesota Viking was the OC at Northern State and was the lead recruiter of Durst, who was surprised Fruechte left.

“I was like, ‘Well, that maybe changes things',” Durst said. “Because I really liked coach Fruechte.”

Fruechte became the OC at WSU one day after Durst received his offer from Northern. A week later, Durst was offered by the Warriors.

Durst knew Winona was the place for him, committing two days later on Jan. 26.

“It felt like it was kind of like at home. Like all the other (school’s) coaches were super welcoming, too,” said Durst, whose mother also went to WSU. “And just, I'd say they cared more about me as a person than they did about my football ability. And that was something that just really stuck out to me.”

Like Bergstrom did, Fruechte made it a point to convince Holcomb to join the WSU family.

But at that point, after initially talking with Bergstrom, Holcomb didn't need much convincing.

He believes he was meant to play for Winona State.

Now it's time to prove himself all over again.

“One thing my dad pointed out to me is that it was kind of God's plan from the start, like Winona was the only team that was talking to me from the start. And the only one at the end,” Holcomb said. “It's just meant to be. So I’m going to go do what I got to do there to prove everybody wrong.”

Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at avandenhouten@postbulletin.com.
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