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Alexandria's Judd Paffrath walks on at the U of M

Contributed Judd Paffrath (second from left) posed with siblings Wyatt (left), Shanna (center) and Hunter (right) during the spring football game at the University of Minnesota. Paffrath is a walk-on for the Golden Gopher football team and plays middle linebacker for new coach Jerry Kill.

Alexandria native Judd Paffrath was back in town on Monday afternoon representing a team he never expected to be on just two years ago.

The former defensive lineman for the Cardinals was an All-Central Lakes Conference player his senior season in 2008. His 72 tackles and eight sacks helped earn him an offer to play football at Concordia College in Moorhead.

Two years into his career with the Cobbers, Paffrath decided it wasn't a good fit. He made plans to transfer when a family friend helped introduce him to Tim Brewster's staff at the University of Minnesota. He took a visit to the Twin Cities campus and became a recruited walk-on with the program in 2010.

"I really just wasn't happy with the opportunities I was getting there at Concordia," Paffrath said after playing in the Gopher Goal Line golf tournament at the Alexandria Golf Club on Monday. "I knew [Minnesota] was going to be a bigger school with more opportunity. I liked the aspect of a bigger school, and I could still play football at the U. It was just a win, win situation."

Paffrath had to endure a lot of change in his first year with the Gophers. Athletic Director Joel Maturi parted ways with Brewster during the middle of last season and replaced him with current head coach Jerry Kill in December.

The new coaching staff asked Paffrath to move from his natural position on the defensive line. He switched to middle linebacker heading into spring ball. It was a move that has required him to battle through some growing pains as he adjusts to being the quarterback of the defense.

"I had kind of a rough spring," he said. "It was a new position for me at middle linebacker. You run the whole defense, tell everybody what's going on. I'm learning it. I've always been a's good, though. I like it a lot."

His former coach and current Alexandria head coach Mike Empting feels he has the athleticism to adjust to the new position. Paffrath played defensive tackle with the Cardinals and was also one of their top sprinters in the track and field program. At 6'2," 238 pounds, he fits the ideal measurements for a Division I linebacker.

"That linebacker position will be a good fit for him," Empting said. "There's certain skill sets that you need to develop like pass drops and being able to read quarterbacks, see pass routes around you and being able to play in space...but Judd's a really good athlete and those are things that he'll pick up."

Paffrath said it is almost "surreal" being with the program as it tries to move forward under Kill. The former Northern Illinois coach has won everywhere he has been, amassing a 127-73 record in 17 seasons as a head coach. He keeps his players accountable, both on the field and in the classroom, where Paffrath finished with a 3.3 GPA last semester.

"Coach Kill's a great coach," Paffrath said. "You respect him and fear him at the same time, just like a coach should be. He's doing a lot of good things for the team, and you'll be able to see that this fall."

The junior said his goal is to do whatever he can to help this team turn the corner. Every player has started with a clean slate under the new coaching staff. Kill has made a habit of winning with players who come in under the radar and work hard and buy into his system.

"You got to make your first impression and just work hard," Paffrath said. "Keep coming back, keep fighting. You can't do much more."

The jump from Concordia to the Big Ten is a big one, but one Paffrath seemed ready to take on.

"It kind of gives people around here a reason to follow the Gophers a little more closely," Empting said. "Here's a local kid trying to make the squad. Judd's a good kid. I've always had a great rapport, great relationship with him. It's going to be fun to watch and see him make the transition."

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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