The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 21, 2014

West FB players find colleges that are right fit

Weber to MSU, Russell to Augustana, Claussen to Winona State

By Chad Courrier ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — For Isaac Weber, things felt right when he visited Minnesota State last weekend. Jake Russell had the same feeling at Augustana.

Will Claussen knew last fall that he wanted to attend Winona State.

“It’s hard to explain,” Russell said. “It just felt right for me.”

The Mankato West seniors have made commitments to continue their football careers in college, with all three having chosen programs that are members of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s South Division.

“There’s always adjustments going from high school to college,” West coach Mark Esch said. “But all three have the skills to make that adjustment.”

Weber, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound middle linebacker, was the two-time Big Nine Conference defensive player of the year and an all-state selection. He led the Scarlets with 128 tackles, his second straight season of more than 100, and 10.5 sacks.

“I loved the (Minnesota State) coaching staff, and it’s a great program,” Weber said. “Ultimately, I felt like I belonged there. I’m a family person, and I like being close to family.”

The knock on Weber wasn’t production, rather his height. At 5-10, he could have trouble seeing over and around the larger linemen, but he’s not concerned about that.

“It’s just another challenge and something I need to overcome,” he said. “It’s not like I can change it.”

Weber also received offers from St. Cloud State and Augustana.

“I know he’s excited about joining a program with a winning culture,” Esch said. “Winning was important to him. I love it when my guys stay in town so I can get to watch them.”

Russell is a three-year starter in the West offensive line, with the last two seasons at center. He also played some in the defensive line this season, ending up with 29 tackles and one sack, but center is his position.

“I love playing center,” Russell said. “That’s where I wanted to play.”

Russell, 6-2 and 280, also got an offer from Drake, and he considered Winona State, Gustavus Adolphus and Dakota Wesleyan.

“Jake is a big, athletic kid,” Esch said. “He’s big and strong, and he has a lot of potential to play at Division II.

Last fall, Claussen committed to playing at Winona State. Claussen led the team with 41 catches for 732 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 17.9 yards per catch with a long of 92 yards. He also played defensive back, but he’ll be used exclusively on offense, both as an inside and outside receiver.

“I talked to a lot of coaches, but by far, (Winona State) seemed like the right fit,” said Claussen, who avoided some of the recruiting hassle by committing early. “I didn’t want to lead on any other program.”

Claussen said he will have surgery on his labrum later this week but should be healed in time to compete in track, where he does sprints.

“He has all the skill needed to play at that level,” Esch said. “He really liked Winona right away, and he’s a good fit for them.”

The signing period for high-school football players begins Wednesday, Feb. 5. Coaches can’t talk about recruits until they’ve received a signed letter of intent from the athletes.

“The recruiting process is long, and it really drags out,” Russell said. “I’m glad it’s over, and I can move on to the next step of my life.”