High school seniors across the country signed national letters of intent to various colleges Feb. 6. Among area seniors to put pen to paper, Spring Lake Park’s Justin Axelson, a three-sport participant, decided to play college football at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D.
The prospect of playing for the current national FCS champion and head coach Craig Bohl proved to be too good to pass up, according to Axelson.
“The Bison tradition, national championships and how they handle themselves really stood out to me. It’s a real professional deal,” Axelson said.
He is one of five Minnesota recruits for the 2013 class. “How crazy the fans are and how the whole community supports the program is something I want to be a part of,” Axelson said.
As for the shift in top players not going to the University of Minnesota, he said, “I can see that [trend] because they have such a good program at NDSU and they beat the Gophers the last two out of three years. It’s hard to say no to that.”
As for a major, he is deciding between business management or exercise science.
Axelson, who plans to red shirt next fall, talked with Bohl about the idea of playing for Bison and that only helped him solidify his decision. “That was a great honor to talk to him,” he said. “He’s a great guy and all of the coaches seem to be a family and are honest about you and how you can help the team. I actually made my decision the day after I met with the staff.”
That came back in January and now Axelson said he’s relieved the decision has been made so he can focus on what is left of his final high school competitive sports season. He’s a key player inside the paint for the Panthers basketball team.
Axelson has been a standout on the football field as a top tight end and defensive end and post on the basketball court. Last spring he excelled in the throwing events as part of a strong Panther track and field team. This spring he said the focus will be on training ahead of the football season.
Axelson, a three-year starter, was a two-time All-North Suburban Conference tight end and defensive end and earned Pioneer Press all-state honors for his play this past season. He had 18 catches for 245 yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, he collected 75 tackles and 10 sacks as part of a stout defensive line on a team that has won three conference championships and one section title during his time.
Axelson helped the Panthers compile a 23-5 record over the three seasons and said he will most likely exclusively be a tight end at the next level.
“It was kind of a big weight that’s now off my shoulders,” he said. “Each week was kind of busy leading up to my decision and when I committed, I felt a release and know it’s a great decision.”
Axelson’s older brother Joe plays baseball at Southwest Minnesota State University after starting his collegiate career at NDSU. His father Wallace Axelson was an All-American pitcher at Minnesota State University, Moorhead.
Justin looked at those programs as well before making a final decision, with insight from his entire family. “I had to look at each program financially too and my mom and dad were super supportive of me the entire way,” he said.
“They helped me out with the pros and cons of each program, but told me to go with where my heart is at and left the final decision up to me. I really appreciate that.”
Axelson mildly strained his shoulder in the section final football game at rival Totino-Grace in November. The injury kept him out of two basketball games, but he has had no problems with it on the court.
Christine Szurek, soccer, Bemidji State
Faith Lee, tennis, University of North Dakota
Allison Becker, soccer, University of Mary
Lexy Nahring, soccer, University of Mary
Ryan Rumpca, baseball, Bemidji State University
Emilie Brigham, hockey, University of Maine
Kassi Green, volleyball, University of Minnesota, Crookston
Kelci Green, volleyball, University of Minnesota, Crookston
Katie Springer, swimming, Northern State University
Joe Robel, football, Augustana College, South Dakota
Ashley Pafko, soccer, University of Minnesota
Mac Nadeau, lacrosse, Concordia University, Milwaukee
Brenden Nadeau, lacrosse, Concordia University, Milwaukee
James Warner, lacrosse, Concordia University, Milwaukee
Grant Farley, baseball, University of Minnesota, Duluth
Paige D’Heilly, cross country/track, University of Minnesota
Courtney Pasiowitz, shot put, North Dakota State University
Logan Shore, baseball, University of Florida
Spring Lake Park
Derek Malbrue, football, Southwest Minnesota State
Justin Axelson, football, North Dakota State University
Daulton Olinger, football, University of Sioux Falls
CJ Janu, track, University of Iowa
Maggie Ewen, track and field, Arizona State University
Kyle Chraska (Blaine), football, Chadron State College, Nebraska
Joe Schiller (Coon Rapids), football, Augustana College, South Dakota