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Szczyrbak signs with Panthers

MOOSE LAKE—To this day, Moose Lake senior Ezra Szczyrbak spends his summers at his grandfather’s farm in the country township of Meadowlands harvesting corn.

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Perhaps that’s why the state of Iowa cropped his interest most when choosing where to play college football next fall.

Szczyrbak signed a national letter of intent Wednesday at Moose Lake High School, as the senior defensive end and offensive tackle accepted a full-ride scholarship to play Division I football next season for the University of Northern Iowa.

At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Szczyrbak — this season’s 2013 Duluth News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year — was a heavily recruited prospect, among five other Moose Lake-Willow River teammates who look to play collegiately.

Several weeks ago, Szczyrbak verbally committed to North Dakota State University, but opted out of his partial scholarship with the Bison last Wednesday.

Szczyrbak said in his school’s hallway Monday that things went “too fast.”

Countless hours of phone calls and in-house visits followed for the Rebels’ three-sport stalwart afterward.

Yet on Saturday, with the support of his parents, Kevin and Jennifer, and his several younger siblings, Szczyrbak chose UNI, a Football Championship Subdivision program.

“It was one of the toughest decisions of my life,” said Szczyrbak, who, one evening, had seven separate coaches in his family’s foster care home in Moose Lake last week.

“I was feeding a lot of suppers,” said Jennifer with a laugh, noting her already lengthy grocery bill will get even longer now as her oldest son begins preparing to play for the upstart Panthers.

UNI, located in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is the alma mater of former NFL MVP Kurt Warner and Defensive Player of the Year Bryce Paup, now the Panthers’ defensive line coach.

“I’m excited to get going there,” said Szczyrbak of UNI, which gave three-time defending FCS champion NDSU their closest game last fall in a 24-23 defeat Oct. 5 in Fargo, N.D.

In addition to NDSU, both Western Illinois and Minnesota Duluth showed interest in Szczyrbak, along with the University of North Dakota, home to former Rebel teammate Jake Disterhaupt.

“As much as I wanted him to come to UND, we’ll now get to trade stories instead of share them,” Disterhaupt said by phone on Tuesday. “They’re getting a good football player.”

ML-WR Coach Dave Louzek agreed, as in Szczyrbak’s time, the Rebels were 36-3 and went to a pair of Prep Bowls.

“He ranks right up there as one of the best,” Louzek said.

And one who will only add to the Panthers’ coming crop.