Five former Madison, Wis., athletes anchor the Central Lakes College football team in Brainerd, thanks to the "recruiting" of sophomore Brandon Peters.
Peters, one of only six returning players in a perpetually young community college program, is a versatile, persuasive young man who two seasons ago played ball for Madison Memorial High School in a city geared up for the gridiron in the University of Wisconsin spotlight.
"I told the guys to come play. It's fun and we can show 'em some Wisconsin-style football," Peters said about his plan to bring old teammates and even a brother 400 miles northwest to the woods and lakes of central Minnesota.
He said it didn't matter that the team hasn't tasted the sweetness of winning. A 3-6 campaign last year didn't deter his quest. An out-of-state integration with locals is good for the local culture, said Coach Mike Degen, a former standout running back for the school he now serves with new authority.
The 39-player team includes local boys who barely lettered as preps, a few brawny prospects such as 400-pound Chris Gordon of Flint, Mich., and guys who just want to play ball.
"We may have seen most of the team graduate or otherwise move on, but we're gonna stick with it," Peters said, noting each game provides opportunity to show one's ability to scouts from universities that can offer athletic scholarships.
CLC, a Division III member of the National Junior College Athletic Association, is not permitted to offer athletic aid. But student athletes qualify for a piece of the $8.5 million financial aid shared by 70 percent of the 3,000 students eligible for assistance through other resources, including the CLC Foundation.
This season, Peters brought with him from Madison four other former Memorial High School prospects for athletic notoriety and a college education earned the hard way. They include his older brother, Preston Peters, whose 21 tackles at middle linebacker raised eyebrows in the first CLC game of 2002.
Unfortunately, Preston suffered a knee injury late in the Mesabi game. The 22-year-old is out for at least four games.
"I will try to be back," said Preston. "If I heal fast enough I can play later this season." His teammates hope he can.
Other Wisconsin natives lured north for a chance to keep playing: Darnell Lovejoy, a 5-9, 165-pound running back; Jabalja Gussine, a 5-8, 150-pound defensive back; and Nehemirah Barrett, a 6-1, 270-pound defensive tackle.
"I'm not the smallest player," quipped Gussine. "Shaun's only 5 feet, 6 inches tall," he said pointing to the Raiders' No. 1 rusher, 168-pound Shaun Peoples of Bishopville, S.C.
How did HE find his way to CLC in Minnesota?
"On the Internet. And I wanted to see some snow," Peoples said with a smile. He and two Miami natives -- 250-pound tackle Carlos DeLasSalas and 6-4 wide receiver Brandon Flanders -- are Division II prospects; they are good enough to obtain athletic scholarships.
"My friend, Brandon (Flanders), said this would be a good place to go to school and play ball, so I decided to go north," said DeLasSalas, who had four-year colleges looking at him. He wasn't feeling up to the big-school pressure and had been out of high school a couple years. Florida doesn't offer community college football.
The spirited Flanders, also a leader on the CLC basketball team, is among the top wide receivers in the Minnesota Community College Conference.
It may snow before the football season ends in the land of early frost, but by that time perhaps a few more warm Madison smiles will find their way to the campus open to opportunists such as Brandon Peters and his buddies.
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