Scholarship offers are few for area players
Two state championship football teams, two more in the state finals, and possibly the two best football players their respective long-time football coaches have ever had.
All of this in the Rochester area this past fall, and yet only two high school seniors from around here will be grabbing a college football scholarship today on National Signing Day. They are Hayfield safety/punter Evan Bungum (Minnesota State, Mankato) and Cannon Falls linebacker Nate Zibolski (University of Minnesota Duluth).
Well, Plainview-Elgin-Millville coach Bill Ihrke sees a trend.
"It’s been this way the last couple of year," said Ihrke, whose Bulldogs are traditionally among the top Class AAA teams in the state. "I’m not sure what the deal is. My view is that the football we’re playing around here is even better than it used to be, and our whole region used to have a lot more kids (being offered Division II scholarships) than it does now.
"I think that speed is real crucial to kids being recruited at the scholarship level now. Speed is a factor. But I still believe we have some pretty good players being overlooked. This is a hotbed for football, for sure."
Two of the most obviously overlooked players by scholarship schools are Grand Meadow quarterback/running back Caleb Leichtnam and Zumbrota-Mazeppa linebacker Cody Lodermeier.
Leichtnam, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder with 4.5 speed and rare moves, was an absolute dazzler for Nine Man football Grand Meadow. The senior rushed for 1,785 yards this past season.
As for Lodermeier, 6-2, 195 pounds, he racked up 69 solo tackles this year, four of them for loss.
Both Leichtnam and Lodermeier were drawing the attention of Division I school North Dakota State early in the recruiting process. That possibility dried up, as did most every other one at scholarship schools. Now, they’ve both decided to take their talents to Division III junior college power Rochester Community and Technical College, which like Division III four-year schools, can’t offer athletic scholarships.
Like Z-M coach Willie Rauen figured with Lodermeier, Grand Meadow coach Gary Sloan pictured Leichtnam at least getting a scholarship to a four-year Division II school.
"I don’t think I’ve ever sent out more film of a kid than I did with Caleb, or had more (recruiters) come to visit me about him," Sloan said. "I figured he’d end up playing for someone in the NSIC (Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, one which includes Winona State). I am surprised that he’s not. I’ve never seen a kid as dangerous with the ball in our league as Caleb."
State champions, runners-up blanked
As for those state championship teams from southeastern Minnesota, Rochester Lourdes and Caledonia, and state runner-ups Triton and Lanesboro, they also will have nobody signing at a scholarship school today.
That includes Lourdes’ Shane McGrath and Alex Kapraun, two ferocious linebackers with range. It also includes Lourdes running back Adam Lentz who dazzled this season with 1,780 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns.
While Kapraun is not likely to play football at the college level, according to Lourdes coach Mike Kesler, McGrath, Lentz, Nic Jensen and Chris Eickemeyer are all hoping to land somewhere. Lentz is leaning heavily toward walking on at Winona State. Eickemeyer is likely to play at Division III St. Thomas University or walk on at Augustana (S.D.), while Jensen figures to play at St. Thomas.
• Hayfield’s Bungum averaged 37 yards per punt this season. He’s also hoping to by tried at safety at Mankato. Cannon Fall’s Zibolski had over 100 tackles this fall. He’s 6-foot, 210 pounds and is bound for a Duluth team which finished as national Division II champions this year.
• Southland’s Alan May was a rare talent at receiver, at 6-2 and with a vertical jump of over 35 inches. Still, he’s settled for walk-on status at Winona State. This came after turning down scholarship offers at St. Cloud State and Bemidji State.
• Goodhue running back Jared Dicke is bound for RCTC.
• Caledonia coach Brent Schroeder indicated that cornerback Jim Costigan is likely headed to play at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and receiver Lucas Lampert is interested in UW-La Crosse. Both are Division III schools. Quarterback Josh Gran, a second-team all-state player, is undecided where he’s going to play football.
Caledonia defensive end Ethan Lapham was offered a scholarship by Augustana, according to Schroeder, but turned it down. It’s uncertain where he’ll end up.
• Triton running back Connor Henderson is bound for Division III St. Olaf.
• La Crescent’s coach Brett Vesel said that receiver Zach Hoppenworth-Pedersen and running back Jude Williams have yet to determine their football destinations. Hoppenworth-Pedersen is a possibility at RCTC.
• Century coach Jon Vik said that defensive back Kyle Riggott has yet to determine where he will play his college football.