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DeLaSalle athletes Jareid Combs, Chad Fahning and Oscar Opara, l-r, will be playing football at Illinois State, Minnesota and North Dakota, respectively. (MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE(mlevison@startribune.com

In Chad Fahning's world, dreams are more valuable than money.

Last fall, the 6-5, 270-pound offensive lineman from DeLaSalle was in Kalamazoo, Mich., to visit Western Michigan, which had offered him a full-ride football scholarship.

"We saw a story in the news about a local kid committing there. He said, 'I've always dreamed of playing at Western Michigan,'" said Fahning's father, Paul. "We thought about that and figured out that, in Chad's dreams of playing college football, there was always an 'M' on the helmet."

So Fahning turned down the money from Western Michigan and committed to Minnesota as a preferred walk-on with the hope of earning a scholarship.

Passing up a college scholarship isn't easy, but Fahning's reason had a deeper meaning. He lost his mother, a devoted University of Minnesota sports fan, to cancer almost a year ago.

"I remember growing up in St. Paul and playing football on the concrete, pretending to be Laurence Maroney," Fahning said. "I always wanted to be a Gopher. And if that's what I wanted, that's what my mother wanted. Her dream was to see me reach my goals."

Fahning was joined by four other DeLaSalle athletes at Wednesday's signing ceremony. Teammates Jareid Combs (Illinois St.), Oscar Opara (North Dakota) and Aaron Warren (Minnesota Duluth) all signed national letters of intent, as did girls' soccer star Vanessa Johnston, who committed to Minnesota.

For Opara, a defensive back, the choice came down to the last few minutes. He said he didn't decide between Northern Iowa and North Dakota until Wednesday morning.

"It was a tough choice," Opara said. "I didn't know what I was going to do until I woke up this morning."

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