Joy Division: Knight athletes know what they’ve signed up for at D-I peak
KANELAND—High school athletes’ talent can bring them amazing things: wins, titles and even the chance to keep playing the sport they love.
With powerhouses like senior Joe Komel, future Central Michigan University Chippewa, it also brings certainty.
“I think every kid wants to ideally compete at that next level,” Komel said.
That’s echoed by speedster classmate Kyle Carter.
“I just knew I wanted to go to the next level and I knew I didn’t want to stop,” Carter said.
Last month, 13 Kaneland High School athletes participated in National Signing Day, with several athletes signing letters of intent with Division I schools.
For a speedster like Brandon Bishop, who signed as a preferred walk-on at the University of Iowa, he’s aware of the unique task and slot that awaits him on the gridiron.
“I just look at it as I get to do a sport that I love to play. I don’t look at it as a job,” Bishop said.
One of six Knight football players that signed to play with various levels of college programs, Bishop doesn’t know how big of a role he’ll have as part of the Hawkeye program, but will take what comes.
“Any level of college football is big time,” Bishop said. “I was originally with a D-II school, but once you experience a Big 10 program, you dream about that stuff. It’s a big-time mentality there.”
Bishop was also present at a Hawkeyes practice when the squad was practicing for the Outback Bowl in Tampa, that resulted in a 21-14 loss on New Year’s Day to LSU.
“It’s an eye-opener, and I was fortunate to see it,” Bishop said. “They have great facilities in the Big 10.”
Bishop, who wishes to major in social work and possibly be a position coach, is no stranger to the work as a gridiron and track standout.
“It just matters that I compete. I believe in myself to play at that level,” Bishop said.
Bishop joined fellow Knight football gladiators Justin Diddell (Indiana State), Gary Koehring (St. Cloud State), Komel (Central Michigan), Dylan Nauert (St. Cloud State) and Tyler Slamans (Western Illinois) in the Class of 2018 football group.
Komel joins a Mid-American Conference outfit that also boasts former Knight offensive threat Blake Serpa.
“Blake is good friends with my older brother, Sam, and he was able to help me meet with officials from the football program. I had been looking at MAC and Missouri schools,” Komel said.
Komel, part of the solid offensive line that yielded three consecutive Northern Illinois Big XII championships, feels the success at KHS helped buoy him and his chances at the top collegiate level.
“When CMU talked with me, they told me that I came from a program that knows how to win, and that’s what a lot of those schools are looking for,” Komel said. “Kaneland prepared me for that and they know how to win.”
The spring season action in the higher collegiate ranks look to highlight Sydney Strang (Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne) and Carter (Southern Illinois), who are joined by Nathaniel Kucera, who recently committed to Stanford track.
Kucera’s options opened up after receiving a packet from universities following the June Midwest Distance Festival at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.
“Things really opened up for me after that,” Kucera said. “I would have competed at any level after high school, Division III, whatever, but I jumped at the chance.”
Kucera, who’s a verbal commitment to the Pac-12 Conference school, visited the Palo Alto, Ca., institution in the fall.
“It was a surreal moment whenever you get out there. They are such high-caliber athletes, but I was able to talk to everyone on the team. There’s no big egos there,” Kucera said.
The senior looks to be taking a different path than his fellow classmates, all the way to the west coast.
“The first time I got there, it was mindblowing and not something I pictured. It’s a really beautiful city,” Kucera said.
Carter, who’s excelled at cross country and track for his four years as a State qualifier, always had a continuation of his gifts in mind.
“I was getting contacted by D1 schools. I think going to State multiple times and being the best in the NIB-12 prepared me,” Carter said.
Strang, headed to Division 1-AA territory, echoes her distance counterpart.
“I’m glad to move on,” Strang said. “Running is such a part of me. I have so much passion for it. My teammates and (coach Doug) Ecker helped me through it all and help keep that. I just want to continue getting better and keep my love for it.”
Commonplace among the Knight athletes that get picked is a flexibility that comes with the wide-eyed enthusiasm.
“I’ll be able to go anywhere, and wherever they need me next year,” Carter said. “I just want to compete with the best.”
Kaneland’s presence of Division I athletes, which includes the trio of Lanie Callaghan (Valparaiso), Lexi Roach (Youngstown State) and Lauren Zick (St. John’s) that committed to D-I softball outfits in late 2013, not only have the athletic talent, but also seem to know what to expect.
For those that have seen the group in action, that comes as no surprise.