Recent Nikiski graduate Kaden Spurgeon was looking at wrestling in South Dakota when he got a suggestion from assistant coach Dylan Hooper.
Why not try Division II powerhouse St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, Minn.?
Spurgeon, a two-time Class 1-2-3A state champion, sent the Huskies a tape of him in action.
“They immediately said I should fly down there,” said Spurgeon, the son of Jimmy and Kristina Spurgeon of Nikiski. “They paid for my ticket and all my expenses. They showed interest.”
On the early March trip, Spurgeon also got to know the team.
“It kind of reminded me a lot of Nikiski — where their morals lie,” Spurgeon said. “It seemed right and I verbally committed while I was there.”
Spurgeon would then sign his letter of intent in early April. He will get a partial athletic scholarship that has a chance of increasing based on his performance.
St. Cloud State has one of the top Division II wrestling programs in the country.
The Huskies ended the 2011-12 campaign with a 21-0 record, including a first-place finish in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, a first-place finish at the NCAA Division II Super Region 3 tournament and a first-place finish at the NWCA Division II National Duals tournament.
St. Cloud then finished second at the NCAA Division II championships for the second straight year.
Spurgeon said going Division II appealed to him because academics are also very important. He just graduated second in Nikiski’s class.
“I decided on going Division II because I’m planning on going for dentistry,” Spurgeon said. “Going Division I, there’s a lot of commitment to the sport.”
Spurgeon went 32-0 last season en route to the 152-pound state title. He was third in the state as a freshman and sophomore, and voted Nikiski’s most outstanding wrestler his junior and senior years.
He also found a lot of success in football, where he helped Nikiski to a small-schools state championship last year. He is a two-time all-state linebacker and running back, as well as the 2010 Greatland Conference defensive player of the year.
That tackling ability translates to the wrestling mat.
“The coach liked my takedown ability,” Spurgeon said.
He said the St. Cloud wrestlers are like family, and that appeals to him since he is moving so far away. He also likes that St. Cloud coach Steve Costanzo recruits based on character.
“He’s excited about having good people in the room,” Spurgeon said. “He wants to develop good, all-around people who have better lives, instead of wrestling carrying the importance like at some of the bigger schools, where they might just be focused on getting the win.
“The whole program is made to look out for you.”
St. Cloud enrolls 16,000 students and is about an hour from Minneapolis.
Spurgeon is thankful for what everybody at Nikiski did for him.
“I don’t know how many people at Nikiski set goals to go out and do a sport outside of high school, but there is the coaching staff to get you there — in any sport,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without my coaches.”