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Yohnke feeling out his football future

Parkers Prairie tight end Travis Yohnke (20) has been on a few game-day visits this fall at Minnesota and NDSU as his recruiting in football starts to pick up after three strong seasons in a Panthers uniform. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)

Parkers Prairie junior Travis Yohnke has been a central figure in three sports for the Panthers in baseball, basketball and football since he was a freshman.

He helped anchor a talented team on the court that went 21-8 last winter. He caught the final out near first base during the Panthers' Class A state championship game in baseball last spring. Basketball and baseball are sports he has always loved, but football has separated itself as his passion and the sport he hopes will allow him to play at the college level.

"Division I is always everyone's dream, but I'm open to go D-II," Yohnke said on Nov. 14 about his recruiting process. "I just want to play football. That's my passion, and me and my coaches this week talked about sending some film to Division II schools, Bemidji State, Moorhead State, Duluth, because I'm open to going Division II, too."

Yohnke just wrapped up a third straight big season on the football field. He transitioned from an end to linebacker on defense and had 46 catches for 682 yards and nine touchdowns as a tight end for the Panthers.

At 6-feet, 4-inches, 230 pounds and 4.7-second speed in the 40-yard dash, his size and athleticism helps him stand out among a lot of opponents at the Class A level.

It has also piqued the interest of some college coaches with recruiting picking up for high school juniors all around the country. Yohnke has been on a couple of game-day visits to the University of Minnesota this fall under first-year head coach P.J. Fleck.

"Right now with the Gophers, it's just kind of a get-to-know-you period," Yohnke said. "Bring you down there, here's our facilities, here's our program. I've talked to the tight ends coach a little bit. Then after the game there's always a recruiter's area and P.J. comes out and he talks to you about the future of the Gophers. What he expects from you as a coach. He tells you how he does things down there, and it's pretty neat."

Yohnke is still waiting for his first scholarship offer in football from a Division II or Division I program.

He and his coaches are getting video out to schools at both those levels. That's how the recruiting process works for a lot of athletes from smaller programs like Yohnke at Parkers Prairie, a school with a grades 9-12 enrollment of 162 students.

Even after seeing an athlete on film or in person, college coaches then have to decide how their game will translate to the next level.

"I want to go for football, and I've been to those game-day visits to Minnesota and NDSU," Yohnke said. "I'm going to another one this weekend at the University of South Dakota. We've been sending some film with Iowa and Wyoming, but it's still pretty open right now."

That visit to Division I FCS power North Dakota State University came on Oct. 28 as the Bison (9-1) knocked off Northern Iowa 30-14.

"Right away, that atmosphere hits you hard," Yohnke said of the NDSU game day. "I went to the tailgating before and it's just diehard fans. They take it seriously there. They showed us what they do day by day. No matter where you're from, they welcome you as a Bison."

Through three seasons, Yohnke has 108 catches for 1,825 yards and 24 touchdowns. That's earned him All-Mid State Blue District honors for three years. As a freshman, he was named the district's most valuable receiver after catching 37 balls for 556 yards and eight touchdowns. He has also posted a 3.95 GPA in the classroom.

Yohnke loves playing offense, but he has also played almost every position on defense and says he's willing to do whatever coaches want him to do at the next level. The shift to linebacker this past season was admittedly an adjustment for him. He says he could have played better on defense, but improvement could come with more time at the position.

"My number one goal is to go as a tight end, wide receiver, wherever I would fit in in the program," he said. "Some teams might already have an outstanding tight end or receiver, and I've played a lot of defensive end in my days. This year, I transitioned to outside linebacker and middle linebacker a little bit, so I'm open to playing defense."

Simply put, Yohnke just wants to play football after next year.

The game-day visits to programs like Minnesota and NDSU have been fun. He hopes it is part of a process that eventually leads to a scholarship offer on the table from somewhere.

"Right now, with the D-I school visits, that's great and hopefully I get offered," Yohnke said, "but if I don't, I don't. Division II is also a great option. It's always nice to just play football."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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