COLLEGEVILLE — You can’t blame Alex Budde if he feels a little outnumbered this week, even in his own geographical backyard.
The freshman wide receiver on the St. John’s football team is the lone Rocori representative on this season’s Johnnies’ roster.
And with the Spartans (9-3) facing South St. Paul (10-1) in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Saturday in Maple Grove, he is running up against a lot of Packer Pride in the locker room.
“I’ve heard some comments,” Budde said with a smile. “We have a lot of South St. Paul guys here.”
Seven, in fact, including three key members of the starting lineup who will all be counted on heavily as St. John’s (5-1 MIAC, 7-1 overall) faces its own big matchup Saturday: a clash with Bethel (4-2, 5-3) at 1 p.m. at Royal Stadium in Arden Hills.
“South St. Paul is really a smaller school and everybody knows each other there,” said senior running back Sam Sura, a South St. Paul graduate and the MIAC’s leading rusher with 198 carries for 1,173 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.
“The atmosphere actually reminds me a lot of here. That’s one of the things I really liked about St. John’s. I think it’s what helped get some of these other guys here too.”
Those other guys include senior starting outside linebacker Reid Bjorklund, who ranks third on the team in tackles this season with 46, and junior starting outside linebacker Jack Pietruszewski, who has 38 tackles this season in his first year as a starter.
Pietruszewski’s younger brother Dan, a senior at South St. Paul, is the Packers’ starting quarterback. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season as South St. Paul advanced to the state semifinals for the first time. Five previous trips to the state tournament ended in quarterfinal losses.
“I think a member of our local media down there actually said he was a better athlete than me,” Pietruszewski said with a smile.
“It’s definitely been fun to see what he and the team have been able to do. I’ve tried to make it to as many of his games as I could this year.”
But the Johnnies’ South St. Paul contingent will be occupied with matters of their own this week. St. John’s likely needs to win at Bethel — a place where the Johnnies have not been victorious since 2005 — if the team is to remain on solid footing when it comes to earning a Division III playoff berth.
“Yeah, we won’t be there for this one,” said Bjorklund, whose team did beat Bethel 31-8 last season in Collegeville. “We have a pretty big game ourselves.”
But a group of the players watched last week as the Packers beat Fridley 37-14 in the quarterfinals at Macalester.
“I think it was like 21-0 by the time we got there,” Bjorklund said. “So there wasn’t much suspense. But it was fun to be on hand for the first state tournament win in school history.
“We all still know people on the team.”
And that familiarity has helped foster the pipeline between South St. Paul and St. John’s when it comes to recruiting.
“It probably all really started with Beau LaBore,” Johnnies coach Gary Fasching said, referring to the South St. Paul graduate who was a multi-time All-American at St. John’s between 1997-2000, then went on to coach at his alma mater before taking head coaching jobs at Woodbury and now Stillwater.
“He was the first guy I remember calling from South St. Paul. Now recently, we’ve had some guys come up and be successful here. And that’s a big thing. If you can get a couple of guys who come to a place and have a great experience there, it leads to more.”
Fasching said it helps that those players came from a strong high school program.
“They have a great coaching staff down there,” Fasching said. “I really like Coach (Chad) Sexauer a lot. He and his staff treat players the right way. I’m always impressed by them.”
Sexauer and his staff match wits with Rocori (which beat Hermantown 33-20 in the quarterfinals) on Saturday.
But no matter how that game turns out, Budde knows he’s facing an uphill battle.
“If (Rocori) loses, I’m sure I’ll hear about it,” he said smiling. “But even if we win, I’m still outnumbered. So I’ll get it either way.”
Follow Frank Rajkowski on Twitter at @rajko1973 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimesfrank .
Seven members of this season’s St. John’s football team are graduates of South St. Paul High School. They are:
Reid Bjorklund, Sr. LB
Jade Bjorklund, Fr., DB
Billy Brandecker, So., QB
Ben Kroska, So., LB
Jack Pietruszewski, Jr. LB
Korey O’Donnell, Fr., LB
Sam Sura, Sr., RB