GOOSE LAKE — Football, baseball, volleyball and track and field: those are the sports seven Rebels decided to take on into college Wednesday when they signed their letters of intent in front of an audience at Northeast High School.
For senior Luke Empen, signing day meant the transition from a Rebel to a Hawkeye.
“Coach told me they were looking at me, but I was like it’s kind of a big school and I’m from a really small school,” Empen said. “That’s a big leap and I didn’t know if I wanted that. I never would have imagined I was going to be going to Iowa for football.
“I didn’t even dream about it because I didn’t think it would happen. I worked my butt off to get there, but it always seemed too far-fetched.”
To Northeast Coach Jerad Block it wasn’t necessarily far-fetched after seeing the work that Empen put in all through high school to be the athlete and student that he was.
“One of the things that comes to mind when I think about Luke is how he can control his controllables,” Block said. “What I mean by that is when this process started, Coach Firenze called me up and he said what kind of kid is he his, school attendance, and in the classroom. He’s a great leader off the field, off the court and in the weight room.
“One thing I would pass off to younger guys is to control your controllables: do what you can to make yourself better everyday just like Luke does.”
As mentioned, Empen was certainly not alone in his quest to be a college athlete. Sitting right next to him was classmate and teammate Matthew French, who is continuing his athletic career at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota as a baseball player.
“It’s been an honor coaching Matt,” former Northeast baseball coach Tyler Howe said. “He’s probably one of the hardest working guys I had in five years coaching here. What a lot of guys don’t see is it’s not just two months of season and a month of practice. Matt works all year round.”
Moving down the line of impressive athletes, you found Katelyn Howe. Katelyn is taking her volleyball talents on to play at the University of Dubuque.
“My advice to athletes is to work as hard as you can all year round,” Howe said after thanking her parents for club and offseason work they helped her put in. “I can say that I’m ready to be a Spartan, but a big part of me will always be a Rebel.”
Then there came a whole slew of runners and field athletes that decided to take their talents onward. Carly Hasken chose to take her distance running to Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.
“Carly is an outstanding individual,” Northeast Track Coach Pat Healy said about Hasken, who also participates in cross country. Hasken is looking to represent Northeast for a third year at state. “Any distance runner is a hard worker.
“She’s going off to a school where they’re building a program and this is an ideal person to build a program through. She leads by example.”
Hasken is a captain on the track and field team this year.
Representing Rebel field events, Marcella Kientopf is going on to Clarke University to continue throwing for their track team.
“If you’re a track athlete you’re pretty tough from the state,” Healy said about Kientopf. “She fits into that program. She works hard on the weights, she holds down a job and does her schoolwork. That shows a lot of leadership, that shows a lot of determination.”
Senior Wyatt Schmidt, who just ended his wrestling career a couple of weeks ago, is going to take his distance running to Wartburg College.
“He’s a credit to the students at Northeast,” Northeast Track Coach Mike Mattis said. “He’s represented us in cross country and track and field and will be representing us for a fourth year at state this year.
“He’s done terrific things, he’s a terrific kid.”
Schmidt isn’t going in to a team of strangers. Northeast graduates Eli Kaczinski and Nick Kennicker both took their talents to Wartburg as well.
“Hearing about Eli’s success helped, and then seeing the success that Nick is seeing was also a huge determiner,” Schmidt said. Schmidt ran with Kennicker and visited him in Waverly, which helped with his college decision. “They found out I was from Northeast, Goose Lake and they said, we have a couple studs from there. They start listening right away when they hear you’re from Northeast.”
Kaleb Schneider is moving on to Indian Hills in Ottumwa. His specialty is 400-meter hurdles.
“He’s got a great attitude towards hurdling, and I think he’s going to do just fine when he gets to Indian Hills,” Mattis said. Schneider made the state meet last year and is looking to make a repeat trip as a senior. “He’s one of our leaders. He quietly stood at his craft—worked, worked, worked.”