FOOTBALL: Falldorf navigating recruiting life as colleges come calling
Will Falldorf’s theme song may as well be the “Jeopardy!” music right now.
The Bemidji High School running back, who starred for the Lumberjack offense in 2019, has a big decision to make as he weighs his options for a college football path. As phone calls, invites and offers come in, Falldorf is learning to navigate the recruiting process.
“After all the years of hard work you’ve put in, seeing that come to light and getting recognition for it, it means a lot to me,” the junior said of drawing interest. “That’s been my goal since I was a little kid, to play college football.”
A breakout junior season has Falldorf catching the eye of Division I and Division II schools across the Midwest. But he can only pick one program, of course, so how does he narrow down his options?
“The first thing I look at is my position coach, how I click with him, because I’ll be working with him every day,” Falldorf said. “I really look for a good fit and where I’m going to make an impact. I want to be a part of an offense that runs the ball a ton, gives me as many opportunities I can get as a running back.”
And, understandably, he wants to reach the highest level he can.
“I’ve always watched Division I football growing up,” he said. “Ultimately, my goal is to make it to the NFL. The higher the level you play in college, the more likely you’re going to get scouts and stuff.”
There’s a tricky risk-reward dynamic between divisions, though. Scholarship dollars and playing time are harder to find the higher you climb, but the trade-off is being at a level that theoretically offers better exposure and opportunity.
“Getting my education paid for has always been important, but I also want to play at the highest level,” Falldorf said. “If I do have a higher level maybe giving me like a half-ride (scholarship), I’d probably take that over a smaller school’s full-ride. I feel like I can earn scholarship money as I prove myself.”
A group effort
South Dakota State was the first school to come calling for Falldorf.
After his sophomore season in 2018, in which BHS reached the Class 5A state semifinals, Falldorf received a Junior Day invitation from the Jackrabbits. The invite-only event is an opportunity for recruits to tour campus facilities, meet with coaches and explore academic opportunities at the school.
Falldorf has since been on Junior Day visits to the University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota at the Division I level, and he’s also been talking to the University of Northern Iowa. At the Division II level, he’s in contact with most every school in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, including his hometown Bemidji State.
Honored and blessed to be offered by my hometown school Bemidji State! Thank you @CoachBolte for this awesome opportunity pic.twitter.com/qruEdgKh1F— Will Falldorf (@Falldorf28) April 15, 2020
But offers don’t appear out of nowhere. The coaching staff at Bemidji High School has been instrumental in helping Lumberjacks past and present gain exposure among colleges, and Falldorf pointed to offensive coordinator Bryan Stoffel in particular.
“He’s my guy,” Falldorf said. “I go to him if I have any questions. He played college football (at BSU), so he knows what he’s doing. Basically, he’s my middleman. He’ll tell coaches what they want to know about me and stuff.”
Stoffel said that college coaches reach out for lists of players who are recruitable at their levels. The BHS coaches can provide phone numbers, academic information and insight on the intangibles from both on and off the field.
“Will has a few things going in his favor,” Stoffel said. “He has the prototypical size for a running back (at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds). He also has the speed that colleges are looking for, and he has good strength for his size and for his position. Those are his qualities that attract colleges to him. And his performance on the field obviously has a part in this.”
Worth the work
Falldorf finished the 2019 season with 1,034 yards and 14 touchdowns in just seven games, posting a healthy average of about 10 yards per rush and breaking loose for six scores of 50-plus yards.
However, a concussion sidelined him for nearly four full games, something that drives him leading into his senior year.
“I know what I would have done with a full season,” Falldorf said. “I can’t focus on what I would have done, versus what I’m going to do, which is what I’m focusing on now. I’m just trying to keep my head on my shoulders and play with a chip on my shoulder.”
That, paired with his desire to reach the highest possible level collegiately, creates for some jam-packed days.
Falldorf said he’s spending up to five hours a day training. His agenda includes individual workouts as a member of the BHS track and field team, footwork and other football-specific drills, and lifting sessions in the weight room. On the academic side, he’s also got homework to do on top of it all.
“It’s kind of getting to be grueling,” he said.
But it’s all with the end goal of being the latest Lumberjack to reach the collegiate ranks.
“A lot of those kids, that is their goal. That’s their dream, and it’s something they talked about to us as freshmen, as sophomores,” Stoffel said. “(It’s rewarding) to see them get to a point where they are living their dream because of the hard work they put in and the discipline it took to get there.”
‘You’ve got to make your mark’
Falldorf has been going to football camps since he was little, both with Bemidji State and Bemidji High School, and working with the current players.
“It’s kind of cool that I always wanted to be one of those kids, and now my time is coming up where I’m the role model now,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be in those shoes.”
Falldorf said that keeping in contact with college coaches is a near-daily endeavor, but just like his training, it’s an investment that he hopes will pay off down the line.
“It’s not just a one-time thing,” he said. “You’ve got to keep checking in, keep talking to coaches because you always want to be in the back of their mind and stuff. You’ve got to be really proactive, especially if you want to play at a high level, because there’s a million kids out there. You’ve got to make your mark as best you can.”
Falldorf isn’t rushing his collegiate decision. He plans to wait until after his senior season to commit to the right program. And even with a father and grandfather who played football at Bemidji State, plus two sisters who played volleyball at Minot State, Falldorf said his family is in his corner -- no matter where that ends up being.
“I mean, sometimes I catch my dad (whispering in my ear), but at the end of the day, he wants what’s best for me,” Falldorf said. “He knows that I’ll make the decision based off of where I want to play. My sisters loved it at Minot, but they’re also really open for me going wherever. They just want me to have fun and play where I want to play.”
He’s got one more year as a Lumberjack to prove what he’s worth.
“Since I did have a shorter season (in 2019), my senior year is going to be huge,” Falldorf said. “I feel like I am a high-level player, so I’m just going to go out there, training harder than ever. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to get there.”