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Blue Earth's Jonah Pirsig (74) awaits a running back to test his side of the defensive line. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
Jonah Pirsig

Jonah Pirsig

BLUE EARTH  – Juba's Super Valu grocery store has been a landmark in this small town nine miles north of the Minnesota/Iowa border for decades. Along with the price for produce, owner Tom Juba has seen something else grow.

"A lot more requests for Friday nights off," he said.

They come to Wilson Field along Hwy. 169 on the south edge of town to watch the Buccaneers football team. But most eyes this season are fixed upon the giants on the line -- most notably, 6-9 senior left tackle/defensive end Jonah Pirsig, a Gophers recruit who even towers over fellow 300-pound lineman Sam Lee by four inches.

Bob Martig coached football at Blue Earth for two decades. He never had a player like Pirsig, let alone two.

"If we had kids that big back then, they didn't play football," Martig said. "They didn't do anything. The big kids didn't generally have the ability to move."

Lee has heard from colleges, but has yet to receive a formal scholarship offer. Pirsig gave a verbal commitment to Jerry Kill at Minnesota on July 30. He chose the Gophers over, among others, Iowa, Wisconsin and defending national champion Auburn. He is one of eight in-state recruits to stay with Kill and the Gophers.

"Everything I wanted was right here at the U," Pirsig said. "Getting all these verbal commitments from all the top guys in the state, I really think it means something."

Perhaps this is why near everyone in Blue Earth not only has heard of Pirsig but is eager to see what the kid can do next.

"This is unusual for our team," said coach Randy Kuechenmeister, who took over for Martig in 1991. "We'll probably never have it again."

Giant in a small town

Bill Christiansen was a 5-8, 150-pound senior for the Buccaneers football team that advanced to the state's first state tournament in 1972.

He played center.

"That kind of size would have done something for our opponent -- one more thing to prepare for," Christiansen said of Pirsig.

Christiansen works the chain gang at Blue Earth home football games these days. He used to just watch the ball. That changed last year when he kept a closer eye on the line.

"He's raw yet," Christiansen said, putting on his Xs and Os cap. "I don't know Jonah, I've probably talked to him once. But I've heard that since last football season, all he's done is gotten better."

Blue Earth -- with a population of a little more than 3,000 and a high school enrollment of 322 -- has turned out Division I athletes before. In the last decade, Luke and Ty Eustice both went to Iowa for wrestling and Shannon Schonrock to Minnesota for women's basketball. All three excelled. Pirsig, though, is the first football player from town to gain this much interest since Shawn Ehrich walked on at Minnesota in the early 1990s.


Bruce Ankeny, from top left, and Bill Christiansen are members of Blue Earth’s 1972 football team that advanced to the first state tournament in Minnesota. Former coaches, from left, Bob Martig and Les Hintz are seated in front. Submitted photo

Ready for anything

Sports always came naturally to Pirsig. While he's made football a priority, he played basketball for Blue Earth until last season when he instead chose to work with a personal trainer in nearby Fairmont in the football offseason. Pirsig still pitches for the Buccaneers baseball team.

The extra work has shown already. In Blue Earth's home opener last Friday, with the school principal and town's mayor watching through binoculars on opposite ends of the press box, Pirsig helped pave the way for four touchdown runs of 20 or more yards in a 57-40 victory over St. Paul Highland Park.

Every few years, Juba volunteers at the high school as a mock interviewer for students applying for mock jobs. Pirsig aced that test last spring.

"He's just smoother than heck," Juba said. "If you interview someone to be a meat cutter or something, they know what they're doing. Jonah had to work his way through this, and he did. Of all the times I've done it, he's in the top 10 percent. It makes you like him."

That's a common theme around town. Only his mother -- who lovingly referred to him as "uptight" during the rigorous recruiting process -- and his buddies offered minor character critiques.

"Believe it or not, he can get a little ticked off," said Lee, who has been best friends with Pirsig since the two ate their daycare out of afternoon snacks. "He gets that attitude, especially on game nights, where he's almost a completely different person. And for the football game at least, that's a good thing. He's more or less jacked up. He gets angry, and is ready to go push people around."

When the last whistle blows, he's back to being gentle giant Jonah. He minds his manners when getting ice cream at Bruce Ankeny's shop across the street from Juba's store. Pirsig's strong character matches his massive frame, noticeable anywhere he goes. He bobs through the school's hallways, a good head and a half above the flock, as he heads for the weight room to bench press a few hundred pounds and skip rope like the wind.

 

Jonah Pirsig, right, at 6-foot-9 is the big man on the Blue Earth High School campus. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Big from the beginning

He was 9 pounds, 10 ounces and 22 1/2 inches at birth. He's been growing ever since. 

"He was always the big kid, but he has two older sisters and they could flatten him like nothing," said Jonah's mother, Kristin Pirsig, adding that he would come home from wrestling tournaments having acquired a trophy simply because his opponents had forfeited.

Jonah grew about four inches a year as a child. He was also pigeon-toed.

"He fell down a lot," Kristin Pirsig said, chuckling. "But he learned that it hurt to fall down. He got better at it."

Having his education paid for because of sports -- and his size -- only entered his mind a couple years ago.

"I probably got serious about it my sophomore year," Pirsig said. "When I got the Auburn offer, which was like my fifth one, it really opened my eyes -- 'I can play college football.' Hearing from the national champs was pretty cool."

Almost on a whim, Pirsig and Lee attended Iowa's spring game two years ago. They only went because of a suggestion from a person who knew a person connected to the program. College scouts and Internet services such as Rivals.com had a hard time ignoring the two big boys from Blue Earth and soon the word was out.

Pirsig is listed as a three-star recruit by Rivals. The annual SuperPrep magazine ranks him as the 13th best offensive lineman in the country.

An early recruiting decision

Iowa was the first school to offer Pirsig a scholarship last fall. He texted his father from Iowa City with the news.

"I didn't even know what that meant," David Pirsig said. "I had never heard the terminology of recruiting."

It didn't take long.

College coaches started arriving at Blue Earth Area High School in droves. Whispers in the hallways went from who's holding hands with who at the football game to which school was in town next to watch Jonah Pirsig.

"I was in awe for a little while," Kuechenmeister said.

Lee, who has two brothers who play for Augustana in South Dakota, is hearing the most chatter from Minnesota and Iowa State. He has yet to make a decision and says he won't until after the high school season. Pirsig, on the other hand, wanted to get his decision out of the way -- in part, he said, so, "I could actually hold a conversation with someone for five minutes without them bringing up which school I was interested in."

He announced he had chosen Minnesota this summer. While not official until he signs a letter of national intent in February, it put an end to a grueling process. He could have gone to programs larger in stature and with larger crowds on fall Saturdays. But Pirsig decided to stick with the same maroon and gold colors he dons on Fridays.

Pirsig said he didn't want to be another product coming from a football factory -- perhaps a tip of the cap to the small town that is nurturing an unusually big dream.

"In a way I kind of did it for myself," Pirsig said. "Going to Minnesota and working hard there rather than just going through the assembly line at Wisconsin or Iowa. It will mean a lot more to me."

NAME HIGH SCHOOL YEAR POS. COLLEGE VERBAL
Duke Anyanwu Blaine Senior QB Minnesota Yes
Matt Arends Prior Lake Senior WR Princeton Yes
Tavaughn Blair Hopkins Senior SS Northern Iowa Yes
Cal Bloom Osseo Senior TE Central Florida Yes
Nick Carr Totino-Grace Senior OL South Dakota State Yes
Kevin Carroll Edina Senior OL Northern Iowa Yes
Paddy Clancy St. Thomas Academy Senior DB Dartmouth Yes
Breion Creer Benilde-St. Margaret's Senior DT Northern Iowa Yes
Nick Davidson Eden Prairie Senior OT Stanford Yes
Rob Diane Robbinsdale Cooper *RCC Junior DE South Dakota State Yes
Cedric Dicke Cannon Falls Senior LB Minnesota Yes
Karmichael Dunbar Prior Lake Senior DL Louisianna Yes
Isaac Fruechte Caledonia *RCTC Sophomore WR Minnesota Yes
Joel Fuxa Minnetonka Senior TE Drake Yes
Jonathan Harden Cretin-Derham Hall Senior DT Western Michigan Yes
Tyler Hartmann Andover Senior DE Minnesota Yes
Isaac Hayes St. Thomas Academy Senior OL/DL Minnesota Yes
Cody Hazelette Simley Senior LB/TE Northern Illinois Yes
Kyle Hughes Minneapolis Washburn Senior WR/DB Eastern Michigan Yes
D.J. Hebert Osseo Senior QB Northern Iowa Yes
Cavonte Johnson Edina Senior DB Minnesota Yes
Will Johnson Osseo Senior TE West Virginia Yes
Zack Johnson Eastview Senior OL North Dakota State Yes
Paul Kaczor St. Cloud Tech Senior OL Harvard Yes
Brian Labat Detroit Lakes Senior RB North Dakota Yes
Andrew Larson Eden Prairie Senior RB Harvard Yes
Brandon Larson Bemidji Senior LB North Dakota Yes
Ben Lauer Wayzata Senior OL Minnesota Yes
Mitch Leidner Lakeville South Senior QB Minnesota Yes
Andre McDonald Hopkins Senior WR Minnesota Yes
Nate Meixell Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial Senior LB South Dakota State Yes
Nate Meyer Rocori Senior QB South Dakota State Yes
Drake Michaelson Eden Prairie Senior LB Wofford Yes
Rossevelt Morisset Thief River Falls Senior WR Southeastern Louisiana Yes
Andy Moritko Totino-Grace Senior DB South Dakota State Yes
Philip Nelson Mankato West Senior QB Minnesota Yes
Brett Pierce Holy Angels Senior DL North Dakota State Yes
Jonah Pirsig Blue Earth Senior OL Minnesota Yes
Nick Rallis Edina Senior S Minnesota Yes
Taj Rich Robbinsdale Cooper Senior LB North Dakota Yes
Zach Riopelle Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Senior LB North Dakota State Yes
Kasey Robinson Breck Senior WR Drake Yes
Chase Roullier Burnsville Senior OL Wyoming Yes
E.J. Welch Mesabi East *MRCC Freshman DL North Dakota Yes
Lucas Wiborg DeLaSalle Senior OG Cornell Yes
Evan Williams DeLaSalle *IWCC Freshman RB Northern Iowa Yes
Maxx Williams Waconia Senior TE Minnesota Yes
Carey Woods Bemidji Senior WR North Dakota State Yes

The Jonah Pirsig File

From: Blue Earth, Minn.

• Age: 18 • Height: 6-9 •Weight: 300 pounds

• Bench press: 325 pounds • Squat: 425 pounds

• Committed to: Minnesota

• Offers from: Eight of the 12 Big Ten schools and a host of others, including defending national champion Auburn.

• On being a big deal in a small town: "When the first offer came, everybody was talking about it but I wanted to keep it in the family. It got out pretty quick. It was OK, but I got asked about it every day, and I didn't enjoy that. It's hard to keep things secret. I'm glad it was good news; I definitely wouldn't want to be on the other side of it, if it was bad news."

• On preparing for his senior season: "I was one of five guys on our team to go to a personal trainer in Fairmont. He didn't hold back; kicked my butt the first day. I definitely didn't want to go back, but I knew it would be good for me."

BRIAN STENSAAS 

 

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