Dylan Boecker and Andrew Fenton have been friends since going to preschool together.
Although it wasn’t a factor in choosing a college destination, the two are excited to continue to play football together at the next level.
Boecker and Fenton each signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at Division I University of North Dakota on Wednesday in the Menomonie High School gym. They were joined at the signing ceremony by Sam Skillings, who inked his LOI to wrestle at the University of Minnesota.
“We know each other pretty well, and it will be nice to have someone that I know on the team with me all the time,” Fenton said of playing with Boecker.
Boecker and Fenton will join Menomonie alumni Chris Schrantz, Luke Schluesner, Jeff Schlossner, Andy Miller, Nate Wayne, Jon Heimler and Luke Stanley to have played for the Fighting Hawks.
Fenton was a two-year starter at offensive tackle for Mustangs and earned All-Big Rivers first-team accolades while being named to the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association all-state team. Fenton also played nose guard defensively for Menomonie this past season.
Fenton had Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers but North Dakota felt like a perfect fit for him, athletically and academically. His parents are also UND graduates.
“I know it has a great sports history,” Fenton said of North Dakota. “I like the idea of playing in the same Midwest area that I’ve been playing. I just thought it was a great fit for my academics, as well.”
Fenton was named academic all-state for football and plans on majoring in mechanical engineering.
When he gets to Grand Forks, Fenton will be learning a new position. While he will remain on the offensive line, the coaching staff sees him as a center. He’s up for the challenge of learning to snap the ball and he still has some time to learn the new position.
Fenton is first focusing on finishing his high school athletic career strong. Fenton qualified for the WIAA Division 1 state wrestling championships last year and placed sixth at 285 pounds. His goal is to win a state title this year.
Also eyeing a state wrestling title in his senior season is Skillings. Skillings placed second in the 182-pound weight class last year and looks to reach the top of the podium before he heads off to Minneapolis to wrestle for the Gophers.
To achieve that goal, Skillings will have to first get healthy. The senior suffered a leg injury while playing football in September and has been recovering since. He expects to make his debut on the mat in coming weeks and once his does, he doesn’t plan on letting anything stop him from reaching his goals.
“(I’m) definitely focusing on getting my leg to 100 percent strength and then conditioning (will be key),” Skilllings said. “You just got to go for it, don’t stop until you get there.”
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Skillings also reached state his freshman year and he has a career record of 114-14 while being a All-Big Rivers first-team selection all three years of high school. He was a National High School Coaches Association All-American after finishing fifth at the high school nationals earlier this season, and he was runner-up in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling in 2018 at the Fargo (N.D.) Cadet National Championships.
Joining the Gophers program wasn’t a challenging decision for Skillings. He knows a couple of his future teammates, and having a coaching staff that believes in him makes all the difference.
“When I went there on my visit I felt like it was home to me,” Skillings said of Minnesota. “I know a couple guys from the team, so it kind of made me feel invited there, and it wasn’t really like a new environment.”
While making the jump to a conference like the Big Ten is a challenging task, wrestling coach Ray Paul is confident Skillings has exactly what is needed to fit right in.
“He is self-motivated to the point where he’s scared to miss a workout, he’s scared people are outworking him,” Paul said of Skillings, “and I think that mindset and the character that he’s developed is really going to be the big thing that puts him right in place with everybody that’s already there. He’s already going to have the habits that they’re trying to develop in their incoming freshman.”
Boecker excelled on both sides of the ball with the Menomonie football team. He was a three-year starter for the Mustangs at receiver, where he led the team in receiving yards as a junior. Moving from safety to linebacker defensively as a senior, Boecker was named to the All-Big Rivers first team as well as being selected as a WFCA all-region selection. Despite success wherever he played, the decision of what position to play at the next level was easy. Boecker will join the Fighting Hawks as an outside linebacker, a position he has grown to love.
“This year I totally fell in love with that position. I wouldn’t want play any other position, and it worked out,” Boecker said of being recruited as a linebacker.
The coaching staff at UND was the first to reach out to Boecker about playing football in college, and that proved to play a large part in his final decision. He was invited to visit the Grand Forks campus on multiple occasions, and the staff sent plenty of letters expressing their interest in him joining the program.
“The coaches, the atmosphere — everything about it felt like home,” Boecker said of North Dakota.
While he knows he will being playing on defense, Boecker isn’t focused on getting an answer to the odds he sees the field quickly. For Boecker it’s all about putting in the work. If he does that, his time will come.
“I’m just going to go there, get in the weight room — do whatever they ask of me,” Boecker said. “As long as I work as hard as I can, I know I will get on the field in the right time.”
Football coach Joe LaBuda said the three individuals have become great leaders in all each of the sports they play. They have also developed great habits in the classroom, where each of them has earned academic all-state accolades. While recognizing their great accomplishments athletically, the three are also well-rounded people, LaBuda said.
“They’re just great young men,” LaBuda said of Boecker, Fenton and Skillings. “They’re super examples for other young kids to look up to because they’re the whole package — character, academics, athletics and their work ethics. To me they’re three super role models for the young men in our community to look up to.”