By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — For two seasons, Hunter Friesen caught passes from Philip Nelson, giving Mankato West one of the most explosive offenses in Minnesota.
But that onfield relationship seemed to end with the state semifinal loss to Bemidji in November.
Friesen has accepted the opportunity to walk-on at the University of Minnesota, where Nelson is already going to school and participating in the Gophers’ offseason program.
“I just want to see if I can compete with the best players in the nation,” Friesen said. “I want to know if I have what it takes.”
Friesen, Nate Meixell of Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial, Nick Simon of New Ulm Cathedral, Paul Sonnek of Maple River, Kyle Krzmarzick of Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and Jeff Amundson of Waterville-Elysian-Morristown are among 88 high-school players taking part in the annual coaches association’s all-star game this week. The teams are practicing at St. John’s this year, ending a 13-year run at Gustavus Adolphus, and the all-star game will be played Saturday at St. Cloud.
In February, Friesen, a slot receiver, committed to walk on at Minnesota State, but since he
wasn’t accepting a scholarship, NCAA rules prohibited Minnesota State from announcing that move.
He started to have second thoughts about Division II football, and in late May, the opportunity with the Gophers arose.
“Ever since I started playing football, my dream has been to play Division I football, for the home-state team,” Friesen said. “Now my dream might come true.”
He said he called the Mavericks’ coaches last week to tell them he had changed his mind.
“I was ready to go the MSU because they have a great program, and it’s my hometown team,” Friesen said. “It was hard (to tell the Mavericks coaches), but if things don’t work out with the Gophers, hopefully I could come back.”
Friesen is a two-time all-state selection, with 113 receptions for 1,891 yards and 29 touchdowns, which ranks second at West. He’s scored 34 touchdowns in his career, with two rushing, two on kick returns and one on an interception return. He holds the school record with 13 interceptions, nine of which came his junior season.
Last season, he caught 63 passes for 1,181 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns and scored three times in returns. He suffered a broken leg in the state semifinal loss to Bemidji, but played most of the rest of the game. The injury forced him to miss the wrestling season.
Friesen said his leg is nearly 100 percent, and he will have a normal workout routine this summer. He’s going to skip this season and enroll at Minnesota in January, allowing him to participate in spring practice in 2013 to ease the transition into his freshman season. He’ll be able to work out with Nelson, keeping that relationship in tact.
“We’ve played together since we were in fifth grade,” Friesen said. “He knows how to get me the football, and we were a very good combination. Hopefully, we can carry that over to college.”