Menomonie, Eau Claire (WQOW) -- National signing day has become a very big deal across the country. Wednesday, a number of area athletes make their college decisions official.
Menomonie's football program has sent a number of players onto the next level. The latest in that line is James Gates. The two-time first team all-state linebacker signs his letter of intent with two-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State.
"They were one of the bigger schools that I got offered from which helped a little bit," says Gates, "but the main reasons were overall the program, the coaches, and the community, they really bought into their football program. It was just really easy, I blended in with the coaches, their linebacker coach, Coach Bohl out there, I just got along with really well."
Also on his way to North Dakota State, is Eau Claire Memorial wide receiver Drew Davis, who chose the Bison over programs like North Dakota, South Dakota State, Minnesota-Duluth, Winona State, and UW-Eau Claire. Davis says it's tough to pass up an opportunity to play for the two-time defending national champs.
"It was amazing," Davis says about his visits to NDSU, "their tours, their facilities, their academic side, everything I seemed to love there, they made me feel welcome, that's definitely one of the big reasons I came there. Eventually, hopefully I see the field my sophomore year, and right now I need to work on my speed, hopefully, get my 40 time down, but mainly just getting in and out of cuts, and hopefully seeing the field pretty soon but I know my role and I need to work hard to get there."
WIAA Division 6 state runner-up Eau Claire Regis will send two players to Division II University of Sioux Falls: running back Khadel Akindolire, as well as offensive and defensive end Nick Stanke.
"It's such a great relief to know where you're going to be going," Stanke says, "it feels like such a load off your back. You've been thinking about this ever since you were a little kid now that you've finally made a decision, it just feels great."
"My family and I have discussed this for some time now, and to finally know where I'm going to be going next year is kind of a relief," says Akindolire, "I'm excited to get down there, the coaches were just phenomenal, they made me feel at home right away, and the players too, they were great."
Two more Menomonie athletes will compete at the college level. Nicole Schmidt is on her way to the University of South Dakota for track and field as well as cross country, while Mustangs teammate Stefani Friedenfels is off to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for track and field.
"I really like the Division II schools," says Friedenfels, "I think that Division I was too big and Division III was too small. And also the coaches, I really wanted a good connection with the coach, and that was really a deciding factor for me too."
"Being that I will be doing cross country and track I'll be with a lot of the same teammates and with the same coach pretty much the entire year," says Schmidt, "so knowing that I will get along well with the kids and have a really good personal relationship with the coach was something that was really important to me."
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