When it seems like you can‘t make all your dreams come true, sometimes you just need to tweak them a bit.
As a boy spending his formative years in Oregon, Jeff Stolzenburg dreamed of playing on a national championship football team at the University of Oregon. After graduating from St. Charles North, he enrolled at Oregon with the goal of walking on to the squad as a wide receiver. Considering that the Ducks have become a perennial national power and are the trendsetters for “cool” among major college football programs, making the team was not going to be easy.
“When I wasn’t given a chance to play football again, I decided to come back home to the place I played all my high school years,” Stolzenburg says.
He decided to give North Central College a try.
“When I came here, I was looking for a team to play for,” he says. “One of my friends was on the team at the time.”
That friend was Travis Saville of West Chicago, who played baseball with Stolzenburg’s older brother at Elgin Community College. Stolzenburg visited North Central and found out the Cardinals had some similarities to Oregon.
“I liked the whole championship theme and how they dominated conference,” he said.
North Central has won at least a share of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) title every year since 2006.
While the Cardinals have yet to reach an NCAA Division III national championship game, they’ve won a number of playoff games, including a 41-21 victory Saturday at California Lutheran.
Stolzenburg, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, caught a pair of touchdown passes in that contest, including a 54-yard reception from quarterback Spencer Stanek.
“Coach had called stutter-go,” Stolzenburg recalls. “I lined up against a guy in man coverage. They pretty much played man all game. He bit on it and there was no safety over the top. The quarterback put it on me and I was gone.”
That’s happened quite a bit this season. Stolzenburg leads the Cardinals (9-2) in TD receptions this season with seven. Overall, he’s caught 25 passes for 488 yards.
Saturday was a career day for Stolzenburg with four receptions for 121 yards.
“It’s always good to get the opportunity to do something,” he says. “I’m just grateful my coaches gave me the opportunity.”
Stolzenburg has become North Central’s biggest big-play threat, averaging 19.5 yards per reception.
“Overall, I feel like I’ve done pretty well,” he says. “There’s always room for improvement. As a receiver, you always want to perfect your craft.”
It turns out Stolzenburg will finally fulfill his dream of playing football in Oregon this Saturday when the Cardinals travel to Linfield College in McMinnville to play the Wildcats (10-0) in the second round of the playoffs.
“They’re a great team, ranked third in the nation, always a nationally-ranked contender,” Stolzenburg says. “After looking at some film of them this week, their defense looks solid. Their defensive line looks awesome. It’s going to be tough for our offensive line.”
McMinnville is only about an hour drive from Stolzenburg’s home in Beaverton, Ore., but he says he won’t have the opportunity to go home this weekend.
“Coach [John Thorne] said, ‘This is not a vacation. This is a business trip.’”
If North Central can take care of business against Linfield, the Cardinals would advance to a quarterfinal tilt against either Bethel (Minn.) or the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
North Central’s roster includes a number of area players, including former Marmion Cadets Manny Juarez and Tyler Boyd and Batavia grads Noel Gaspari, Kevin Schroeder, Brian Wilson, and Jay Thrun.
Elmhurst volleyball falls in semis: Last week in this space we reported on the Elmhurst College volleyball team’s quest for a national championship. St. Charles East grad Sam Szarmach had nine kills and six digs as the Bluejays defeated Salisbury University Thursday in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals at Holland, Mich. Junior setter Katie Rueffer of Batavia had 20 assists in the semifinal match the following day, but Elmhurst fell to the University of St. Thomas in three sets.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To submit information on local athletes participating in collegiate sports, email him at email@example.com.