Jackrabbits make out with NWSC’s best

Osseo senior Bridgeport Tusler signs a national letter of intent to play college football at South Dakota State University Feb. 6. Champlin Park’s Joe Stephens, and Maple Grove’s Jake Wieneke also signed with the Jackrabbits. (Photo courtesy of Rich Moll of richmollphotography.com)

Osseo senior Bridgeport Tusler signs a national letter of intent to play college football at South Dakota State University Feb. 6. Champlin Park’s Joe Stephens, and Maple Grove’s Jake Wieneke also signed with the Jackrabbits. (Photo courtesy of Rich Moll of richmollphotography.com)

The rest of the Division I football coaches across the country may have overlooked the Northwest Suburban Conference, but South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier doesn’t mind one bit.

Stiegelmeier and his coaching staff landed arguably the three best seniors in the league, signing Osseo running back Bridgeport Tusler, Maple Grove wide receiver Jake Wieneke and Champlin Park offensive lineman Joe Stephens to national letters of intent Feb. 6.

Area high school coaches will tell you SDSU hit the jackpot. The Jackrabbit leader doesn’t disagree.

“You look for winners, and you look for student-athletes, guys that will excel, and that is what those three guys are,” said Stiegelmeier said. “They are tremendous young men. They are very good students and they will be really good college football players. We feel really good about getting all three of them.”

All three share plenty in common, not including the conference in which they played during high school.

Tusler was a state champion last winter in basketball, and is in the process of trying to help the Orioles repeat this winter. Wieneke, who is a standout on basketball at Maple Grove, hopes to have something to say about that.

Stephens could care less about how the basketball season plays out, but he will be focused this upcoming track season, when he will attempt at making a third straight trip to the Class AA state track and field meet in the throwing events.

“I don’t think it is any secret that these multiple sport athletes in high school are better because the play more than just one sport,” said Osseo head coach Derrin Lamker. “I’m sure that will help them all when it comes time to play football in college.”

It has obviously helped them plenty as a prep, though their accolades on the football field are tough to ignore.

Tusler was the 2012 Mr. Football Award winner, one of many postseason honors to come his way. Wieneke had over 1,300 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns this past fall at Maple Grove, and Stephens – who is listed at 6-foot-4, 260-pounds – was a bulldozer of a lineman for the Rebels.

“Those other two guys were conference player of the year, and you will never get that award as a lineman,” said Champlin Park head coach Mike Korton. “But Joe can just knock kids out. When he lines up a kid, it is over. He can really finish a block, and what is scary is his best football is yet to come.”

“I hope so,” said Stephens. “I want to go down there and get better and see where that takes me.”

“I think we are all going down there to win a national championship,” said Tusler. “I feel SDSU can compete with any program in the country.

Stiegelmeier said that is the belief he wants all of his recruits to bring. Most Minnesota born players grow up hoping to play in the Big Ten. This isn’t that. But the Jackrabbits did win nine games before losing to eventual FCS national champion North Dakota State in the postseason, which is something this trio plans to build on.

“That is why I picked South Dakota State,” said Tusler, who switched his commitment from Northern Iowa to SDSU just prior to signing day. “We know the level they play at. I’m just excited for us to get down there and get started.”

Contact Nick Clark at nick.clark@ecm-inc.com

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