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For about 18 years — a lifetime in this case — football players work their way toward signing day, when they first can make official their plans to play in college. That day, the first day of the early period for signing national letters of intent to play NCAA Division I football, arrives Wednesday. A look around reveals that the path players take over that 18 years varies strongly from athlete to athlete. Here's a look at five athletes who are expected to sign letters of intent Wednesday and their five paths:

Jaxon Howard, Robbinsdale Cooper to Louisiana State

Robbinsdale Cooper co-head football coach Tony Patterson applies the term "unselfishly reliable" to Jaxon Howard.

The 6-4, 240-pound Howard was the state's top recruit — perhaps the most sought-after prospect in Minnesota history. He was also the Hawks' Swiss Army Knife in cleats.

Defensive end, middle linebacker, tight end, long snapper — Howard wore a lot of hats on game day. Good thing offers from more than 60 Power Five schools didn't swell his head.

"With all of the attention that he received this year he did not make it all about him," Patterson said.

Howard, son of Cooper football coach and former Vikings defensive lineman Willie Howard, "could have played any position on the field and would have been the best player at that specific position," Patterson said. "He is the type of player that doesn't come around that often."

Howard posted 120 tackles, four tackles for loss and an interception for a Cooper team that finished sub-.500 for the first time since 2011.

"Although we did not have a season up to our standards," Patterson said, "Jaxon still led our team by example."


Chiddi Obiazor, Eden Prairie to Kansas State

Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant didn't mind that Chiddi Obiazor, a defensive end in the fall, spent his winters playing basketball.

"I think there's a great crossover between the two," Grant said. "Playing football makes kids physical, and that contact only helps them in basketball. I know basketball helps football players with the footwork, and all that running helps with conditioning."

Obiazor, headed for Kansas State, is listed at 6-6 in football and 6-7 in basketball — "They put foam pads in their shoes," Grant said. He'll leave behind the game of basketball, where he is averaging 20.3 points a game this season.

Grant said he expects Obiazor, who weighs 240 pounds and runs a 4.75-second 40, to play defensive end in college, but he wonders if he's going to gain weight on a college training program and play defensive tackle instead. "He's never really been on a full lifting program," Grant said.

Grant wonders about another change college might produce in Obiazor.

"So many of these kids are such nice kids," he said. "They don't have that nasty streak. With him, like with all high school kids, it comes and goes. ... They'll try to find that mean streak in college."


Martin Owusu, Prior Lake to the Gophers

Prior Lake senior Martin Owusu always knew he wanted to play football in college. Where? The 6-3, 290-pound defensive tackle wasn't sure, but he'd always been a fan of Wisconsin. Until last May.

Owusu, a defensive tackle who combines strength with a quick first step, racked up 7½ sacks this fall. He likens himself to "Aaron Donald, only I'm a little bigger. He's only about 6 feet tall, but he's a dog. And I'm a dog."

After getting the hard sell from Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi and defensive line coach Brick Haley, Owusu committed to Minnesota on May 2, reversing a recent trend of top Minnesota players crossing the border to Wisconsin.

While playing close to home was the biggest reason for Owusu's commitment to Minnesota, he admitted that his interest in the Gophers was sparked when the Gophers defeated the Badgers in 2021.

"I was at that game, and I rushed the field after it," he said. "That was one of the biggest things that changed my mind."

Rumors swirled Tuesday of a last-minute offer from Wisconsin, but Owusu took to Twitter to confirm his commitment to Minnesota, saying, "I'm a Gopher, no matter what."


Eli Paulson, Anoka to St. Thomas

Paulson, Anoka's uber-productive receiver, sat at midfield after the Tornados' season-ending loss to White Bear Lake, watching the Bears celebrate their 28-23 playoff victory.

"I was sad. Was this my last game?" Paulson said he wondered.

He's known largely for his wrestling prowess — he was runner-up at 132 pounds in last year's Class 3A state meet and his father is Olympic wrestler Brandon Paulson — but he knew he wasn't ready for his football life to be over.

His father, who is a co-owner of PINnacle Wrestling, knew how much Eli loved football and encouraged him to check into post-high school options. "He was the one who pushed me," Eli said. "He's not just about wrestling. He tells me to do what I want to do. It's my decision."

Paulson, a slippery wing back who excels at getting yards after the catch, led the state in receiving this season with 96 catches for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns. When he made it known he was open to being recruited, St. Thomas came knocking.

Paulson took two visits there — once to a game, another to tour the school — and knew that was the place for him. St. Thomas offered, and he accepted.

Paulson will remain heavily involved with wrestling.

"I'll still be training for freestyle and Greco [Roman] and coaching at PINnacle in the offseason," he said.


Daniel Tschida, Roseville to St. Thomas

Roseville football coach Chris Simdorn could go on forever about the great things Daniel Tschida brought to the program both on and off the field.

But he boiled it down to leadership.

"Daniel is one the best leaders I've been around in 26 years at Roseville," he said. "His leadership is in everything he does 24/7."

Forgive Simdorn for not being able to stop there.

"Another great attribute of Daniel's is his love to compete," he said. "There are a lot of kids who try hard but don't compete. Daniel combines his effort with competing to be the best all the time."

Tschida's competitive will never wavered, not even as the Raiders finished 0-9 this fall. The 6-1, 225-pound fullback and linebacker would have made NFL legend Dick Butkus proud. Butkus earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1969 on a 1-13 Chicago Bears team. Tschida impressed opposing coaches with 92.5 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.