They’ve been friends as long as memory recalls, football teammates since fifth grade, and on Wednesday, Manitowoc Lincoln seniors Austin Bown and Nick Schroeder made one more commitment to the next stage in their football careers, and lives.
Bown inked a National Letter of Intent to play offensive line at the University of Northern Colorado, while Schroeder agreed to a preferred walk-on spot at quarterback at Western Illinois University.
The two joined family, friends, coaches and supporters in a joint event to make their decisions official.
“We’ve been friends, our families are friends, and we’ve been doing this recruiting thing together,” said Schroeder. “Now we’re both going to college, coincidentally in the same division.”
UNC and WIU are in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as I-AA.
For Bown, the signing brings to closure a recruiting period full of highs and lows.
Two years ago, he was being courted by the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, making visits to Big 10 schools. But he suffered a torn labrum his junior year – he played through it all season – and had surgery in the off-season.
The big-time programs withdrew interest, but it also opened new doors.
“I knew I had to just go with the flow, and something would happen,” said Bown.
Bown took part in a camp at the University of Wyoming in June, which Northern Colorado staff was also present.
A few months later, when Wyoming backed off its pursuit of Bown, UNC came calling. Earlier this month, the school offered Bown a full scholarship if he could come out and visit, which he did on Jan. 14.
He fell in love with the campus and coaches. Three days later he accepted the offer, shunning a preferred walk-on spot still on the table at Wisconsin.
“There’s no chip on my shoulder,” Bown said regarding a perceived slight from the Big Ten schools. “It all worked out in the end.”
Bown played just one season at offensive line for Lincoln, but that is where he is being brought on to play at UNC.
Listed at 6-foor-5 and about 240 pounds, Bown will be asked to gain considerable weight, possibly through a redshirt freshman year before being physically ready for the rigors of playing O-line in the college ranks.
But there is precedent at Lincoln for this sort of thing. Doug Free played just one season on the offensive line at Manitowoc, but took a scholarship offer from Northern Illinois for that position, bulked up, and is now on the OL for the Dallas Cowboys.
Manitowoc football coach John Dixon said with Bown’s body type and the college regimen he’ll soon be in, Bown has the potential to get to 290 by the end of his freshman year.
For Schroeder, playing college football has been a goal since eighth grade, and now it’s here.
Western Illinois was in the picture this fall, and Schroeder took an unofficial gameday visit. But in December, most of the coaching staff was fired following a lackluster season, leaving things in limbo.
Earlier this month, the new staff contacted Schroeder, and things picked up. They offered him the preferred walk-on spot a week before he was scheduled to visit with them.
Schroder chose WIU over scholarship offers from several Division II programs in Minnesota and South Dakota.
“I really liked the campus, the coaches were nice,” said Schroeder. “They know how to win (most come from Division II powerhouse Minnesota-Duluth), and are committed to get Western Illinois back on a winning streak.”
Schroeder (6-2, 200) is being brought on to play quarterback, with some punting duties if needed. He was a dual-threat QB for the Ships and team MVP, and the school’s WIAA Scholar-Athlete Award winner.
“I’m really happy with the decision,” said Schroeder. “The (recruiting process) was stressful but fun.”