From the Catbird Seat... Division II athletics at its bestEsko’s Tim Rahkola is a fine example of what the Division II athlete is supposed to be all about.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
Esko’s Tim Rahkola is a fine example of what the Division II athlete is supposed to be all about.
The senior has just completed quite a fine football career indeed, with the UMD defensive lineman earning his second national championship ring last weekend in Florence, Ala.
Yet, the 260-pound defensive lineman had other things on his mind when I spoke to him earlier last week.
He was talking about how the UMD marching band couldn’t make the trip due to other commitments. An accomplished musician, Rahkola talked about how playing the piano can be difficult when you’ve had broken fingers from playing football.
“They didn’t have enough players for the low brass instruments,” he said. “They really wanted to come down here. Marching is a religion in the South.”
Division II athletics, to paraphrase UMD chancellor Dr. Lynn Black, are for the student first and then the athlete, though the athletic experience is very important. Rahkola obviously qualifies on both counts.
Rahkola discussed missing the occasional music rehearsal for football practices and games during his career, but it’s plain that he loves both. When I spoke with him on the same topic earlier in the season, a small pile of music books could be seen sticking out of his backpack.
Yet on Saturday, the player his teammates call “Rocko” is a leader of a completely different type.
He didn’t start on the defensive line – in fact, much of his game action came with the second unit – but when he spoke on Friday night during the defensive team meeting, his teammates listened.
UMD had a remarkable sense of team this season, and it was due to the influence of players like Tim Rahkola. He has an acute sense of his surroundings and above all, he knew he was fortunate to be where he was.
“I got to come down here twice in a career and be treated like a king,” he said. “That’s special to me.”
Division II sports, especially football, are at a splitting point in the eyes of some observers. There are players like Rahkola, and there are players like the eight Division I transfers last Saturday’s opponent, Delta State, put on the field.
“We think we do it the right way, and we think our way is best,” Black told me last week.
So, what’s it going to be? Are the fields of Division II going to be crowded with transfers who, for whatever reason, couldn’t play at higher levels? Or are the fields going to be filled with student-athletes who can play at a high level but have chosen Division II schools as their first choices to keep playing the sports they love?
It would be a true shame if students, and athletes, like Tim Rahkola, ever got crowded out of the picture by players who had their chance and elected to play at higher levels, but instead forced deserving athletes out of teams by dropping down to play at lower levels when things didn’t work out for them.
UMD’s band of true Division II athletes prevailed, however. David Nadeau, who is a civil engineering major at UMD, powered the 32-yard field goal home that made the Bulldogs national champions for the second time in three seasons.
Obviously, that’s fine with all of us, but it’s also a victory for Division II as it was meant to be. Rahkola agrees.
As we talked on the field after the game, he looked at me and grinned.
He picked up a box of chicken provided to each player as his post-game meal, and walked toward the center of the field to eat his lunch, a newly-crowned national champion.
“Not a bad way to go out,” he said, picking a drumstick out of the box. “Not a bad way at all.”
Jeff Papas is the radio voice of the NCAA Division II national champion UMD Bulldog football team on KQDS-AM 1490 in Duluth.