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Gopher coach announces scholarship for Perham athlete

Golden Gopher head coach Tracy Claeys introduces Payton Jordahl to the crowd at the Perham Lakeside Golf Course. Jason Groth/FOCUS

The dream for a small town football player usually involves taking the next step and playing football at the next level, ultimately playing for a Division I school. Perham’s Payton Jordahl is living that dream. What was already a good dream, recently became a great dream when Minnesota Golden Gopher head coach Tracy Claeys announced the walk-on athlete would receive a scholarship for his efforts.

Jordahl, who was redshirted his first season, participated in all 13 games with the Gophers last year. He was the team’s primary long snapper and was perfect on all 126 snaps last season. He snapped on 74 punts, 31 point-after-touchdowns and 21 field goals.

“It has been amazing. It’s pretty surreal being down there, coming from a small community like Perham,” Jordahl said. “I kind of took a leap of faith, going down to the Cities. I’m pretty much a country boy, love hunting and fishing, I sacrificed that going down to Minneapolis, but I have grown to love the city a lot. Regardless, if I was in football or not, Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota is a great community and a city.”

Recently at the Chalk Talk Caravan, Claeys honored Jordahl in front of his hometown crowd and had many great things to say about the Perham native.

“He is never late. He shows up for everything. He helps with all the community service,” Claeys said. “He has done a tremendous job in the classroom. All around, when they say student-athlete, he truly is a student-athlete.”

Claeys believes that Jordahl snaps the ball as fast as anybody in college football. The long snapping position is one that is often overlooked until a bad snap or a poorly executed kick happens during a game.

“Special teams is so important and you can’t do anything without the snap. People don’t realize the speed that the snap gets back there gives the punter and the field goal kicker a lot more time to go through their routine and to kick the ball,” Claeys said. “He will snap the ball as fast as anybody in college football.”

Football has always been a part of Jordahl’s life and he said seeing his hard work pay off and the dream come together is pretty amazing.

“It’s a huge sense of relief to be honest,” Jordahl said. “It’s great for my mom and I and our whole family. It’s a huge financial relief for us. It’s mainly one of the reasons why I came to play football. Obviously, I love the sport but I wanted to do it so I could get an education and hopefully get that education paid for. I have to thank God for it, it’s a wonderful deal for me.”

Jordahl stepped onto the scene with the Gophers in a tough predicament. His first snap in a game came on national television when the Gophers were hosting nationally ranked Texas Christian University. The Gophers had their backs against their own end zone.

“That was a crazy atmosphere. TCU was a really fun game, even though we lost it,” Jordahl said. “It was one of the most fun games, maybe it was because it was the first one I ever played in. It was crazy because, this is it and let’s give it a whirl. I downplayed the situation. Before high pressure snaps I think to myself, ‘this snap may seem important, but it won’t compare to getting married or having my first kid. If I mess this up, I’m still the person that I am and it won’t make me less of a person.’ When I think that through, it calms me down and lets me know it’s OK. That snap was a high pressure snap for my first one, but I’m glad it was because every snap after snap seemed easier.”

It’s a great experience, Jordahl said, of playing football at TCF Bank Stadium. He might be one of the few Golden Gopher players looking forward to fourth down, of course, he said jokingly, but it’s his way of getting onto the field during the game.

“I prefer snapping for field goals, because that means we are scoring. It’s really fun. The first few games I was nervous, then I came into my own,” Jordahl said. “I had a few mistakes this season, but hopefully I will fix those. There are a lot of fun games and playing in TCF Bank Stadium is an amazing experience. We have a great fan base and even when we visit places like Ohio State, which was an amazing game. Iowa was a great atmosphere and I’m excited to go over to Maryland and Penn State this year. It’s going to be a fun fall.”

However, long snapping is a position that doesn’t come with a lot of accolades. It’s a position on the field where you don’t want to be recognized, which is the way Jordahl looks at it.

“When people don’t know who I am and don’t know my name, that means I haven’t messed up yet,” Jordahl said. “Usually a long snapper or kicker doesn’t get noticed until they mess up bad. If did my job, stay in my lane, keep working and don’t think it through too much, that helps a lot.”

It’s kind of humbling because you play in the big stadiums in front of 100,000 people, Jordahl said of playing in the Big Ten.

“It amps you up and puts you on a pedestal, Jordahl said. “But at the end of the day, you go to bed and I’m just a normal kid from Perham. If any kid had a dream like this and worked hard enough, they could be doing what I’m doing too. It’s real fun, it’s a great experience but it makes me appreciate the little things in life.”

Jordahl recorded a career high 13 successful snaps in a game at Purdue. He was also a perfect 11 for 11 in games with Michigan and Ohio State.

Jordahl said the Golden Gophers have two missions, one is to win the Big Ten and the other is to get your degree.

“It’s pretty cut and dry with how they want you to succeed on the football field, but you can’t do that if you are not good in the classroom,” Jordahl said. “Obviously the classroom comes first, that’s why we are called student-athletes, not athlete-students.”

Jason Groth

 Groth is a Minnesota Newspaper Association award-winning Sports Editor of the Perham Focus and the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Groth worked in Grand Rapids as the Sports Director at KOZY/KMFY radio for two years and prior to that he was the Sports Editor/Writer for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review for seven years. 

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