Former Lumberjack takes last ride with the Mustangs
Cloquet-native Dylan Lauer's eventful collegiate football career will come to an end this season as he suits up for Southwest Minnesota State University as a graduate student.
MARSHALL — In the weeks after his senior season with the Southwest Minnesota State University football team in 2021 came to a disappointing end, former Cloquet High School standout Dylan Lauer was fully prepared to hang up his cleats and call it a career.
With a political science degree in-hand, plans for the next football season turned into preparations for entering the workforce, until a call from his former coach at St. Cloud State University, Scott Underwood, made him reconsider his decision to step away from the game.
“He’s the one coach I started with and I thought I’d be playing all four years of my football playing career with,” Lauer said. “Circumstances made that unlikely, but then I was just kind of given a second chance, and so I was like, ‘Oh boy, that makes me want to go back.’”
Lauer played his first two seasons for Underwood at SCSU before the program was cut for budgetary reasons.
The option to come back for a fifth season was even more enticing when his former offensive line coach with the Huskies, Brett Patterson, was hired, all but solidifying his decision to return.
“I learned so much from him and I credit everything to him,” Lauer said of Patterson. “I think he made me the player that I am, and if the past two years he was still coaching me, I couldn’t imagine the player I’d be, so to come back working with him is really exciting to me and was a huge draw.”
The Mustangs, under the new regime, are hopeful for a bounce-back season in 2022 after winning only two games last season.
The road will be challenging right out of the gate, however, as the team opens its schedule against a team Lauer is all too familiar with, the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“It’s kind of like a homecoming game for me, so I’m excited for that,” Lauer said. “I’m going to play as hard as I can, and I’m hoping we can come away with the win.”
The trip back up to the Northland will be even more sweet with family and friends on hand for the season-opener.
“Cloquet football usually likes to get the whole team together for a UMD game every year, so … maybe (Coach Jeff Ojanen) could make that the game that they go to. That would be sweet seeing all of those guys there,” Lauer said. “I know I’ll have some friends and family there.”
A shocking change
Upon arriving to campus at St. Cloud State University as a true freshman in 2018, Lauer envisioned a prototypical four-year career with the Huskies.
After starting in all 11 regular season games on the offensive line as a true freshman, he was well on his way toward making that goal a reality.
“I think he improved drastically coming into that first (season) in the fall to be able to put himself on the field right away and show that he had the ability to play in the NSIC right away,” Underwood said.
Following an underwhelming 2019 season for the Huskies in which Lauer was only able to suit up for six games due to injury, preparations for a bounce-back season in 2020 were already in full swing when, in a matter of days, everything changed.
Through the grapevine, rumors that the Huskies football program would be eliminated began to surface. At first blush, Lauer gave little credence to the unsubstantiated claims.
“I just thought people spread rumors all the time, so I laughed it off,” Lauer recalled. “I just thought that was another one of those things guys were just spreading gossip and someone made something up and it just catches like wildfire.”
Lauer said he remembers discussing hypotheticals with a teammate at work the night before the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference was changed in the wake of the SCSU football news on Dec. 10, 2019.
“I remember I was working at the Scheels in St. Cloud, and I worked with another offensive lineman, and we were joking about it the night before just like, ‘Oh where would you go if they cut us?' Like, 'Yeah, I’d go here,’ and whatnot,” he said.
The next morning, Lauer and his teammates received a text message from Underwood informing them of a team meeting where the rumors would be addressed. It wasn’t until another message arrived, this time informing them that the president of the university, Robbyn Wacker, was going to be there, that reality began to sink in.
“I left classes early that day, went down there and they just cut us, so I mean I had less than 24 hours of really notice of even people talking about it. So it was a shock to me and my teammates for sure,” Lauer said.
Finding a new school
Before the meeting took place, Division II football coaches were already reaching out to players to gauge interest in coming to play for their programs. With time running out to find a new home before the start of the next semester, things moved quickly for Lauer and company during the unique recruiting process.
“You had about maybe three to four weeks if you wanted to make it to your next school before the next semester, so it was ... really just rapid fire,” Lauer recalled. “As soon as that happened, the coaches were just following guys instantly on Twitter.”
Wanting to remain in the NSIC and his home state, Lauer turned down multiple offers from other schools to play in Marshall at SMSU under former head coach Cory Sauter, who recruited him out of high school.
“Southwest (Minnesota State University) was a good option for me. I knew (Sauter) from him recruiting me in high school, so we already had a relationship then. And so it was just a good fit for me and I thought it would work best,” Lauer said.
By the time Lauer arrived in Marshall, the calendar year was 2020, and within months of meeting his new teammates and settling into his dorm, he was thrown another massive hurdle with the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled the 2020 season.
“I just remember hearing at the time that spring break was extended one week, and I remember being so pumped that we got an extra week for spring break,” Lauer said. “Well, that spring break turned from two weeks to I think about a year of spring break or so and not going back, so yeah, it was just a lot of stuff happening in those three months.”
Much to Lauer's delight, a sense of normalcy has been restored in the wake of a collegiate journey filled with uncertainty. Football in the NSIC returned in 2021 for his senior year and he earned his degree in political science along the way.
Underwood spoke glowingly of Lauer for the perseverance he’s shown throughout his time at SCSU and SMSU.
“It speaks volumes about who he is. I mean certainly having that passion — the passion and desire to want to compete and certainly took the opportunity to get out there and play football,” Underwood said. “Also, he’s done a great job with his education as well.”
Now a graduate student, Lauer is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and hopes to one day be a football coach or recruiter.
With his playing career still far from over, he’s eager to get back on the field for one last the ride with the Mustangs.
“I’m really excited. I know that we’ve got plenty of talent on the team (and) I know that with the new coaching staff that we’re going to have a good year. I know it,” Lauer said.