DEWITT — As he sat at the row of tables on the auditorium stage with 11 of his classmates, reality started to settle in on Chris Keitel.
His high school days are almost done, and the challenge of college awaits.
“It definitely makes me feel a lot more mature,” Keitel said. “It’s a step that I’m ready to move on to a new career and play football.”
A dozen Central DeWitt High School seniors, including Keitel, were recognized Wednesday afternoon at the high school in a ceremony in which they announced their college plans.
As athletic director Kurt Kreiter told them that the memories they would create in their college careers would eclipse those of their high school days, the tudent-athletes could feel the ceremony serving as a bridge to the future.
“High school is pretty much over,” Mitch Green said. “It’s exciting.”
Green, Keitel, AJ Smith and Mitch Kirby all plan to continue playing football. Keitel will play at St. Ambrose, while the other three are headed to Iowa Conference schools — Green to Simpson, Smith to Coe and Kirby to Wartburg.
Baseball players Austin Lechtenberg and Jake Thumann will join Kirby at Wartburg; volleyball standout Cori Peterzalek is headed to Mount Mercy; softball players Morgan Oldsen and Brooke Posey are going to Loras and Black Hawk, respectively; runners Rem Meggers and Mitch Federspiel will remain teammates at the University of Dubuque; and bowler/baseball player Lucas Perdieu is going to attend William Penn.
“The opportunity to bowl (in college) is amazing in itself,” Perdieu said. “Five or 10 years ago, it was even relevant as a high school sport. Now, scholarship opportunities in bowling have opened up for me and others.”
Lechtenberg acknowledged, though, that it could take time for opportunities to open up at the college level.
“It will be pretty exciting competing day in and day out,” he said. “I might not play for a few years, but it will be worth it in the end.”
He is excited to join a winning program, too. The Knights won 12 consecutive Iowa Conference titles from 1997 to 2008, lead the conference standings this year and are ranked 20th nationally in NCAA Division III.
“It’s a nice place up there (in Waverly), and as soon as I talked to the coaches I liked it,” he said. “They have a great tradition.”
Peterzalek said she was as excited about the academic side of college as the athletics.
“Mount Mercy is close (Cedar Rapids) and has an awesome nursing program,” she said. “I know people there, and I get to play volleyball.”
Peterzalek was a setter for three years for the Sabers before moving to outside hitter her senior year. She said the experience setting up hitters benefited her when she made the switch.
“The experience you learn as a hitter helps to hit a ball because you’re not always going to get a perfect set every time,” she said.
Location also played a role as Keitel and Green made their choices.
“St. Ambrose is close enough that I can come home and do laundry, and my family and friends can watch me play,” said Keitel, who plans to study occupational therapy.
For Green, picking Simpson was a change of plans, but one he says is for the best.
“It was between Simpson and Iowa Western,” he said. “I had signed with Iowa Western (the NJCAA national champion), but decided that academically and geographically, Simpson was better for me.”
For Green, just the chance to play college football is exciting.
“I wasn’t planning on playing college football heading into my senior season,” he said. “I was more concerned with getting the starting position here. I fit in with the personnel, and it put me in this position to play college football.
“I was blessed to have great football coaches, great running backs and a great line.”
Green, DeWitt’s quarterback, and Keitel, the leading rusher, were key players on a team that opened with two losses under first-year coach Mike Miller. But the Sabers won eight of the next nine and advanced to the Class 3A state quarterfinals, where they gave eventual champion Decorah its closest game of the year, 21-14.
“I definitely thought about that when Kreiter left,” Keitel said of wondering how the coaching change from Kreiter, who stepped down to become athletic director, to Miller would go. “You worry about your senior season. That’s supposed to be a special moment. But I couldn’t ask for a better season.”
And, if Kreiter, is correct, the seasons that lie ahead will only be better for Keitel and his classmates.