Linebacker Cody Lindenberg never seriously considered playing football for a different high school, despite the fact that Anoka wasn’t having much success.
But after his junior season, Lindenberg, then approaching 6-3, long and fast and athletic, knew that his profile needed a jump-start if recruiters were going to notice.
So in early April, Lindenberg and a buddy, Wayzata defensive back Sam Robertson, hopped in a car with Lindenberg’s father, Ron, and headed to St. Louis for one of the regional Nike “The Opening” combines.
“I know if you’re good enough, coaches will see you, but I felt like I needed to get my name out there,” he said.
At the camp, he ran a 4.76 40-yard dash, posted a 30-inch vertical jump and showed the kind of instincts and athleticism that coaches can’t help but notice. Suddenly, his name was out there.
“I had a few Missouri Valley offers, but after I performed the way I did, I had a few more schools looking at me,” he said.
Baylor was one. But the school he really hoped would notice was Minnesota. He had grown up a rabid Gophers fan and still cherished a photograph of himself as a 10-year-old, posing with Goldy Gopher during the inaugural season of TCF Bank Stadium.
Minnesota did notice. In early May, Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi invited him in for a workout, then called him back the next week so coach P.J. Fleck could see him. A scholarship offer came soon after.
“On May 8, to be exact,” Lindenberg said. “I always had the dream to run out on that field with the coaches.”
In a span of one month, Lindenberg had gone from a little-known player with a dream to a bona fide Power Five scholarship player.
It’s a story that’s grown more common with each passing year. What a player does in shorts and a T-shirt at a combine is often just as important as what he does on Friday nights.
“Cody Lindenberg played for Anoka, which was not a very good team, but he has the size, he runs well, he moves well,” said Ryan Burns, publisher of the recruiting website Gopher Illustrated. “He has all the measurables you need to succeed in the Big Ten.”
That is the bottom line. Dominance on the high school playing field often doesn’t translate to the next level.
“You can be the greatest player in the metro, rush for 1,000 yards or make 100 tackles, but at the Big Ten level, it’s all about how athletic you are,” Burns said. “And that’s where camps come into play.”
Staying home to be a PWO
St. Francis tight end Wyatt Schroeder has the size, speed and skills to play big-time college football. He’s 6-4, weighs 225 pounds, is a fluid runner and has marvelous hands.
But for Schroeder, that wasn’t enough. He had received some early interest from Iowa, but as things progressed, the Hawkeyes started courting other tight end prospects. A few FCS-level teams began circling around him and he even committed to one, South Dakota State, last spring.
“I liked South Dakota State, and I knew I could be happy there, but the whole time, I knew where I really wanted to be,” he said.
Despite his commitment, he attended the Gophers’ camp last summer and stood out. Afterward he sat down with coaches, and they laid out his options.
“We talked for about an hour,” he said. “They said they were only going to take two tight ends and one on scholarship, but they offered a PWO [preferred walk-on]. As soon as they did, I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.”
He decommitted from South Dakota State and accepted the Gophers’ offer. That meant that he would have to foot the bill for tuition, room and board, but it also meant he would get a guaranteed spot on the roster.
“Teams can only have so many players go through complete workouts, like two-a-days,” Burns said. “A PWO means your spot on the team is guaranteed. You go through everything the scholarship players go through.”
Walks-on have long been considered little more than practice fodder for the players on scholarship. Few made it a full four, or even five, years.
But PWOs have an advantage. In addition to getting every perk afforded to other players, walk-ons at Minnesota have a recent history of being awarded scholarships.
Former player Blake Cashman, a one-time walk-on, was awarded a scholarship after two years and wound up as a third-team All-Big Ten selection in his senior year. He entered the NFL draft and was taken in the fifth round by the New York Jets.
Two players who began as PWOs played significant roles with the Gophers defense this season: defensive end Sam Renner and safety Jordan Howden. And current players such as receivers Clay Geary and Brock Annexstad and linebacker Bailey Schoenfelder have all gone from PWO to scholarship.
Schroeder expects to join that group someday.
“I’m confident I can play at this level,” he said.
Late offers bring thrills, stress
Champlin Park’s Jaice Miller was offered a PWO by Minnesota a few days before leading the Rebels into the Prep Bowl against Wayzata last month.
As a wide receiver converted to quarterback before the season, Miller had success that raised his profile enough to get noticed.
At first, he was thrilled. But as time has passed, other schools made pitches and Miller admits that PWO offer didn’t carry as much weight.
“I was excited about the PWO at first, but I haven’t been talking to [Minnesota] much and we haven’t built a relationship,” he said. “And getting money is important to me and my family.”
Wyoming was a late caller. Miller and his family flew to Laramie for an official visit last weekend and he came away impressed. Division II Minnesota Duluth also has caught his eye as the only school that wants him to play quarterback. Both Minnesota and Wyoming are projecting Miller as a receiver.
Miller’s host when he was in Wyoming was former Buffalo wide receiver Treyton Welch, now a Cowboys tight end. Coaches there told Miller they see him as a tight end, but they’d like a quick answer.
“I really liked it at Wyoming, but I’m not sure about being 13 hours away from home,” Miller said. “Treyton was great. He said he was worried about it at first, too, but he really fell in love with it. But they want me to make a decision right away.”
Playing quarterback last season whetted Miller’s appetite for the position. Thus, he’s seriously considering the UMD offer.
“I enjoyed quarterback more than any other position I’ve played,” he said. “I actually reached out to the Gophers about quarterback and they said probably not. But I could see myself playing quarterback there.”
What Miller doesn’t see is making a quick decision. It’s unlikely he’ll pick a school Wednesday.
“The last few weeks have been as eventful as the season,” Miller said with a laugh. “It’s been fun seeing what all the coaches have to say, but it’s been pretty stressful.”