Derrek Piepho and Blake Hoelscher played on the same side of the ball last fall for the Alexandria football team. On Tuesday morning at Alexandria Area High School, the two signed their letters of intent to play at the college level in different sports.
Piepho is heading to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he will look to help get the Bulldogs back to their championship form in football from a decade ago. Hoelscher is taking a different path. He is going to play baseball at Bismarck State College next spring.
Piepho made 51 tackles and had two interceptions at the cornerback position last fall. He earned the Pound the Rock Award from the Cardinals after the season ended. He then finished his high school career with a defensive MVP selection at the Minnesota Football Showcase at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"I'm really going to miss playing Cardinal football," Piepho said. "I've played here since I was in fourth grade, and these guys have been with me forever. It's sad thinking about that, but all of the new opportunities ahead are what I'm really excited about."
UMD is one of the top teams in the North division in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. In 2008 and 2010, they won national championships. However, in recent years they've taken a small step back.
"I want to bring home a national championship," Piepho said. "They won two of them a few years ago, but it's been a dry spell since then. I love the facilities and the coaches they have. On top of the football aspect, I love the city of Duluth. It's not like anywhere else in the state.”
Piepho considered other schools in the NSIC. Minnesota State University-Mankato, Minnesota State University-Moorhead and Bemidji State University all came knocking on his door, but he decided to be a Bulldog. Signing his letter of intent to play college football is the culmination of many hard-working seasons.
"My whole life, I knew I wanted to keep playing football after high school," Piepho said. "Football has always been my favorite sport, and it's something I've been really passionate about because it's been in my family for so long. I'd say I've known since a young age that I wanted to play college football, I just never knew where."
Hoelscher is taking a different route in his college career. While having some looks at the Division II level, he's deciding to play junior college baseball and bet on himself.
"I was talking to some schools in Division II, but I felt like this was the right path for me," Hoelscher said. "I love their campus and their field. I also felt like the coaching staff was right for me. I'm excited about the new challenge."
Last spring, Hoelscher was one of Alexandria's leading hitters. He had a .317 batting average and knocked in a team-leading 11 RBIs. He was also second on the team in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.805) behind Matthew Carlsen (.990), who committed to play baseball at Bethel University.
Hoelscher is the third Alexandria baseball player to announce his commitment. Fellow senior Cody Richardson signed earlier this winter to play for the University of Jamestown in North Dakota in the NAIA.
For Hoelscher, playing at a junior college is a way of betting on himself. With another year to prove his worth to four-year schools, he plans to make the most of it. But for this spring, he's excited that he can play baseball without the added pressure of wondering about his future.
"Our coaches and I talked about how I don't have to worry about this stuff anymore," Hoelscher said. "We have goals for this spring, and I'm ready to help us get there. I'm excited about new opportunities that going to Bismarck will bring me, but I'm even more excited to get back on the field with these guys one more time in a few months."