Dylan Lauer of Cloquet, Max Plunkett of Superior and Mitchell Pelkey of Hermantown should have been in the library on Tuesday afternoon at St. Cloud State preparing for next week’s final exams.
Instead, the three Northland prep football standouts were in a meeting with 100-plus other student-athletes listening to SCSU President Robbyn Wacker crush their dreams with the announcement that the Huskies football program was being eliminated, effective immediately.
Unlike Minnesota-Crookston — which also announced the end of its football program on Tuesday having won two games in the last six years and no more than that in a single season going back to 2002 — the Huskies football program has been competitive despite coming off a 4-7 season in 2019, good for fifth in the eight-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division. The Huskies were 7-4 last year, good for fourth in the NSIC North, and have posted a winning record in 11 of their 13 seasons in the NSIC.
However, the university’s athletic department is facing a $1.6 million deficit from the last four years and must comply with an Aug. 1 Federal District Court Title IX ruling ordering the university to fix the imbalance in athletics following the elimination of six sports in 2016.
“I was just shocked,” Lauer said Tuesday, shortly after meeting with university. “When I first heard about it, I didn’t really think much about it. I thought it was just rumors going around. You try not to think too much about that. By the time it became real, it just hit me. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to do. You don’t expect things like this.
“The school had an imbalance of men’s and women’s sports and we were the casualty of it.”
Lauer is an SCSU sophomore who played in 11 games as a true freshman and six as a sophomore on the Huskies’ offensive line. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound lineman helped lead Cloquet to the state championship game in 2017 as a senior when he was named to the News Tribune’s All-Area team. A first-team all-conference thrower in track and field, he’s been working on a social studies education degree in St. Cloud.
Lauer said the coaches have offered to help Huskies players find new teams, something the former Lumberjack said he greatly appreciates considering they, too, have had their lives turned upside down losing their jobs.
“All our coaches are great guys. They found out pretty much as soon as we did, and you could argue they have it worse than we do,” Lauer said. “They’re going to be really helpful. We talked to them all after. They’re going to help those who want to transfer, transfer. They’re just here for us, whatever we need.”
Like many of the Huskies, Lauer has turned to social media to open the recruiting process a for an unexpected second time in his college football career.
I never thought I would have to say this, but I want to thank all the coaches here at SCSU for everything they’ve done. My recruitment is open and I am looking forward to continue playing football.— Dylan Lauer (@DylanLauer66) December 11, 2019
So has Plunkett, a redshirt-freshman wide receiver, who caught nine passes for 119 yards and one touchdown in nine games in 2019. The former Spartan, who also played hockey and ran track in high school, also had a 16-yard carry.
Pelkey, a redshirt sophomore defensive lineman who has played in three games the last two seasons, said he’s unsure what he’ll do next. A business management major, the former Hawk said he wouldn’t mind coming back home to Duluth to play football, but he also realizes it will be tough to find new homes for 90-plus Husky football players.
“It’s mind-blowing still, it’s a shocker,” Pelkey said. “I’ve made a bunch of new friends that will be brothers the rest of my life, I’ve been living with four other football guys now for two years. I’ve grown a strong bond with everyone. It will be hard to see them all leave for different schools.”
Pelkey said the next two weeks of school will be tough, but he and the Huskies need to overcome the shock and focus.
Lauer echoed that mindset. That’s what being a student-athlete is all about after all, he said.
“It’s not the best time for it to come but it comes with being a college athlete, I guess,” Lauer said. “You have to handle the stress of the sport — whether it’s good or bad — and be able to handle all your classes. No one is going to abandon their future now. Everyone is pretty focused on getting their finals done whether they leave or not. You got to be able to pass your classes if you want to go anywhere else, but it’s rough.”