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The almost 10-hour car ride to far northwest Minnesota didn't scare off Tyler Lazarz.
"I'm used to driving long distances to go up north," Lazarz said. "We go to a cabin up in Wisconsin a lot and it's about five hours away, so I'm fine with the driving."
Even though Lazarz won't be vacationing at the end of his long drives to Minnesota, he's in for just as much fun. The Antioch senior will be playing football next fall at Division II Minnesota State Moorhead, and officially announced his plans on Wednesday as part of national signing day for high school football.
Around 30 football players in the Daily Herald's Lake County coverage area joined Lazarz in firming up their plans and inking the necessary paperwork.
What makes the day even more exciting for Lazarz is that two of his teammates from Antioch are planning to join him at Minnesota State Moorhead. Running back Andrew Pelote and offensive lineman Jovanni Martinelli are both trying to walk on.
"It will be nice to share the experience up there with people I know," Lazarz said. "Andrew and I have been really good friends for a long time and we've been talking about rooming together. I was really encouraging him to look at Minnesota State Moorhead."
Pelote was projected to be a major contributor in the backfield for the Sequoits in 2013, but he tore his Achilles tendon late in the summer and missed the entire season. Any college interest he gained as a junior dissipated.
"He's definitely a diamond in the rough. I told him that it would be great if he could get on somewhere and then get the opportunity to show people what he really can do," Lazarz said of Pelote. "I told him he might as well look at Minnesota State Moorhead so that we could go up there together. It would be fun.
"He wasn't sure at first, but I think I got in his head a little bit and really made him think about it."
Lazarz didn't have to do much thinking about Minnesota State Moorhead himself. The coaches there fell in love with the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder and have been recruiting him heavily for the last 18 months.
"It just felt right there. I think they really liked my size and that I have some skills at my size," said Lazarz, who managed to put up solid receiving numbers in Antioch's run-centric offense. He led the team with 17 catches and more than 200 receiving yards.
"Guys like Tyler are hard to find," Antioch head coach Brian Glashagel said. "There aren't too many 200-plus-pound kids who can block but also run and catch. I told the coaches up there (at Minnesota State Moorhead) that they're getting one of the best tight ends in Lake County."
Lazarz, who planned to wear all of his newly-acquired Minnesota State Moorhead attire to school on Wednesday, will be on a partial scholarship as a freshman.
"The more I continue to play and contribute, I think that scholarship can increase," Lazarz said. "That's what I'll be looking to do."
Rest of the class: There was plenty of other action in Lake County on signing day.
Currently, seven football players in the Daily Herald's coverage area have plans to play at the Division I level. With Big Ten scholarships now official, Stevenson wide receiver/defensive back Matt Morrissey (Michigan State) and Lakes quarterback/linebacker TJ Edwards (Wisconsin) are the most prominent.
Randy Taylor, a former player and coach at Illinois who is now the director of football recruiting for the NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network headquartered in downtown Chicago, believes that both Morrissey and Edwards are so good that they already have legitimate NFL potential.
"Matt Morrissey is one of my favorites," Taylor said. "I've been watching him since he was a freshman. He's such a great football player in general and he's got great instincts. You could put him in so many different spots on the field and he could make plays for you. I know they're thinking about him a lot for defense at Michigan State and I think he could fit in perfectly there with the way they play defense at Michigan State."
Edwards had committed to Western Michigan, but got an offer from Wisconsin late in the game.
"TJ is kind of someone who came on late, too," Taylor said. "I think Wisconsin probably always had him on their radar but then eventually realized that they probably should be giving him a closer look. He's such an unbelievable competitor and he can make a lot of really athletic plays for you."
Still deciding: The official college signing day has come and gone. But there will be plenty more college football decisions to come.
Every coach at the 14 schools in the Daily Herald's Lake County coverage area says that he has players on his team who will be playing in college next fall but are still in the process of making their final decisions.
For instance, eight players at Antioch have already made their final choices. But head coach Brian Glashagel says that number could ultimately reach 10 to 12.
"There have been a couple of other years where we've gotten more than 10 kids (spots on college rosters)," Glashagel said. "That's a very good year for us, and you feel good about that. You like it when your kids go on and keep playing in college."
Tough odds: According to Randy Taylor, the director of football recruiting for the NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network, the Chicago area produces approximately 40-plus Division I football players in any given year.
"There are always a lot of really good football players in the Chicago area and some fantastic players on the top end," Taylor said. "Any time we work with a family, we really try to point out how special it is to be able to play college sports, especially at the D-I level. Across all sports, only about 1 percent of all high school kids go on to become Division I college athletes."
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