Alexandria's Birdsall, Pfeffer have the chance to live out college football dreams
Alexandria center Clayton Birdsall and Teagan Pfeffer are both committed to play college football. And both have own unique stories as to how they got there
Two Alexandria football players have the opportunity to live out their dreams of playing college football after making commitments over the last week.
For defensive back Teagan Pfeffer, he’s headed to the University of North Dakota (Division I Football Championship Series) as a preferred walk-on, while center Clayton Birdsall is headed to Bemidji State University (Division II) on a partial scholarship.
Both players were big pieces to Alexandria’s run to the Class 5A state tournament this past fall as their patience with the recruiting process paid off in getting looks by college programs.
Birdsall overcomes injury to get to Bemidji
Birdsall and his family moved from Big Lake to Alexandria ahead of the 2020-21 school year.
Birdsall was a junior at the time and figured to be in the mix to see plenty of playing time along the lines. During a Monday practice, Birdsall tore his meniscus in his left knee and missed the entirety of the 2020 season.
“I didn't get to play at all,” Birdsall said. “I tried a couple times, but never was able to actually go on the field.”
Birdsall did get the go ahead to play in the 2021 baseball season as well as some summer football camps.
Birdsall was playing baseball and working out at football camps, but said he wasn’t 100% in the early parts of those activities. He made his way back with physical therapy and working out, all while trying to gain the attention of college football programs.
“So (recruiting) really slowed down (during the injury) and not a lot happened with it until this year,” he said. “I had a pretty good year and I still wasn't getting recruited a lot, but I was able to get the attention of Bemidji State.”
He did so bouncing back strongly from his injury and was a key part of an Alexandria team that started 1-4 to the 2021 season, but had a strong finish. The Cardinals ended the regular season at 3-5 against a good schedule, and made a furious run through the Class 8-5A playoffs, taking home the title and qualifying for the state tournament.
Birdsall earned all-section and all-district honors this past season, along with being named Alexandria’s most valuable offensive lineman. He anchored an offensive line that helped the Cardinals average 32.9 points a game behind 112 rushing yards and 212.2 passing yards.
He also played a little on the defensive side of the ball, racking up 13 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss and a sack.
Birdsall played on both sides of the ball at the beginning and end of the season, but only played on offense in the middle part of the season due to swelling in his left knee.
“I think I was limited to that a little bit because of the knee thing, after the first game, it kind of swelled up,” he said. “So I stopped playing both sides of the ball for a couple of games, and then it picked up again then during the playoffs when I played a lot of both sides. I wish I could have been more of a contributing factor on the defensive side of the ball.”
Prior to his visit this past weekend, he said he had never been to a Bemidji State game but got the chance to experience a hockey game during his visit. One of the reasons that Bemidji State saw him as a fit is because of similar blocking schemes at Alexandria and Bemidji State.
“There were called plays (this season) like outside zone and our sweep and stuff where I was able to actually pull from the center position and get outside and block and that's a lot of their plays, a good amount of their plays with their playbook,” Birdsall said. “I'll be pulling and stuff and they like my speed off the ball, my aggression, and athleticism to get out in space and make blocks while pulling and snapping the ball”
The 2021 season was Birdsall's first playing at center as he moved inside from left tackle.
“I've definitely put in a lot of work over the years and this has always been a goal for me since I was younger,” he said. “It's always been a big thing. I've always loved football. I've always worked hard at it and it's awesome to see it pay off. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without God and my family. So I just appreciate everyone that supported me through the football journey.”
Pfeffer relishing “dream come true” opportunity
As a kid, Teagan Pfeffer was a fan of North Dakota athletics.
It was a dream of his to play for North Dakota, but initially it was to be a hockey player. Pfeffer is the starting goaltender for the Alexandria boys hockey team this season. He has a .900 save percentage and 233 saves in 11 games this season.
But as he developed his love for football, that dream of his shifted a bit.
“It’s a dream come true (the chance to play football for North Dakota),” Pfeffer said. “We always had hockey up there in the Grand Forks area, so I got to go to North Dakota hockey games and I just thought it was so cool. Then when the opportunity presented itself to play at North Dakota, it was something I couldn't pass up.”
Pfeffer announced his decision to commit to North Dakota as preferred walk-on Jan. 10 through his Twitter account. Much like Birdsall’s recruiting process, Pfeffer said his was slow until the end of his senior season.
“It was definitely up and down,” Pfeffer said. “I went to a lot of camps in the summer and just didn't necessarily perform to the best of my abilities."
As his senior season approached, he talked with head coach Mike Empting and defensive backs coach Kevin Engebretson on multiple occasions about his upcoming season.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I want to play college football, It's a dream of mine. How do I have to improve, like physically, like what do I have to do?”’ Pfeffer said about the discussions with the coaching staff. “We were able to address that in the offseason, just grind and grind in the weight room and I was in constant communication with Coach Engebretson about camps and things I can do to be mentally ready for this football season and then once it came on it started off as I was at some camps and those didn't go well. They (the Alexandria coaching staff) were like, ‘Hey, you got to have fun, you love this sport, just go out there and just showcase your love and passion for the sport of football and everything's gonna fall into place.’”
Pfeffer led the Cardinals in interceptions on the season with four, as well as jumping on three fumble recoveries. He also finished the season with 43 total tackles.
He had 151 punt return yards on 11 attempts and 200 kick-return yards on 12 attempts, while splitting those duties with University of Minnesota commit Kristen Hoskins. Pfeffer also caught nine balls for 114 yards and a touchdown on offense.
That versatility earned him All-North Central (Red) District honors. Pfeffer added all-section honors and earned the Cardinals’ Most Valuable Defensive Back Award in addition to playing in the Minnesota High School All-Star Game at U.S. Bank Stadium in December.
Patience eventually paid off on a dream to play collegiately.
“It was something where I prayed about it, my parents prayed about it, my grandma. It's always just been something where they’ve known that it’s been a dream of mine,” Pfeffer said. “Just the fact that it will come true now is something that's truly, truly amazing. There's so many people that have had such a large impact on my life and have helped me get to the position where I'm at now.”
Pfeffer is ready to put the pressure of the recruiting process behind him now and look forward to finishing out the season in hockey.
“I’ve always loved football and I knew I wanted to pursue that as a full time thing in college,” he said. “It's been awesome…I'm in hockey right now and those coaches have nothing but support for me with my passion for football, and vice versa for football, coach Empting and all those coaches were super supportive, it’s all full circle. We have such an amazing athletic program where they support multi-sport athletes.”