For years, the Perham football program was producing a top-notch team, and many fine players. But none of those players were taking their talents beyond the high school gridiron.
But lately, that trend has changed. From Marcus Hendrickson at North Dakota, to Andrew Muer at UM- Duluth, Josh Trautman at MSU-Moorhead, and the Hein boys, Jesse and Jordan, at Bemidji State. Perham football is making an impact at the college level.
Another name can be added to that list, as PHS senior Payton Jordahl has announced his intention to walk-on at the University of Minnesota. He will be living his dream of being a Gopher. His primary position will be long snapper on the special teams unit.
“It’s really amazing,” Jordahl said after making his announcement on Sunday. “I’ve always dreamt of playing college football. And to think I’ll get a chance to be a Gopher is almost unreal.”
Payton was brought up on football. His dad, Mike, was a long-time assistant at Perham High School (19 years) before taking over as the head coach in 2010. Mike once told me his son’s name wasn’t spelled like the future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning. But like an old-school Hall Of Famer, Walter Payton.
“I remember going to all those high school games and idolizing the guys on the team,” Payton said. “All I ever wanted was to be a football player.”
Dreaming about college football started when Payton was a young child. Getting serious about his craft began in middle school. He started getting varsity playing time as a freshman.
“One day at practice I was messing around and practiced a few long snaps,” Jordahl said. “Some guys were like, ‘Man, that’s pretty good.’ I started practicing it for real after that, but didn’t take it real seriously until I went to a special teams camp.”
The competitor in Jordahl saw long snapping as an opportunity to get even more playing time on varsity. He was already establishing himself as a top linebacker on defense, and full back on offense, in the Heart O’ Lakes Conference as a sophomore. Now he was part of the special teams.
He started really taking it seriously after attending the U of M’s special teams camp the summer before his junior year.
“The coaches showed a lot of interest in me and told me to keep working on it,” Payton said. “That really helped put me on the radar.”
After another stellar season his junior year, he was on many radar’s. Payton said just about every Division-II college in the area contacted him, as well as most of the MIAC schools (D-III). Most wanted him to play either linebacker or fullback/tight end, in addition to giving long snapping a go.
“I could already see that I was going to have to make a decision,” Payton said. “Did I want to play linebacker or on offense and go to a smaller school? Or do I want to long snap and go to the big time?”
Factoring into his decision was some shoulder injuries in his past.
“I decided that if I wanted to play at a really high level, special teams was the way to go,” Payton said. “I’m not going to lie. Long snapping is probably the best route I may have to play after college too. Even if that is a very, very small chance.
“The bottom line is it’s always been one school from the start,” he added. “It was a tough decision to give up playing line backer. But it was an easy decision to choose the U when the opportunity presented itself. It’s hard to pass up chance to play for the Gophers on a National stage.”
He was offered scholarships from South Dakota and North Dakota, and was shown high interest from North Dakota State and MSU-Moorhead.
Meeting Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill sealed the deal.
“I had heard about Coach Kill when he got the job,” Payton said. “I heard he was decent. But then I met him. I could tell right away, shaking his hand and looking him in the eye, that he was a good man. After talking with him, I had an imeadiate respect for him. I grew to trust him. He’s an honest guy. He seems to really understand life, and he talks to you man-to-man. He didn’t really throw a lot of BS around. He was up-front and honest. I really liked that.”
With last year’s starter at long snapper departing the Gophers as a senior, the job will be open for competition this summer. Coach Kill has told Jordahl he will be given every opportunity to earn his spot on the team. Securing a spot on the depth-chart could earn him a scholarship.
Jordahl finished his Yellowjacket career with 1,605 yards rushing (9th in team history) with 21 total TD’s in 39 career varsity games. Defensively, he had 265 tackles (2nd in team history) with a pair of interceptions, 4 forced fumbles and 5 fumble recoveries. When he wasn’t long snapping, he was receiving them as the punter with a 29.2 career average in 19 punts.
“I really need to thank the entire community for all the support they have shown me,” Payton said. “Especially all my coaches and the people at school, and my dad. I wouldn’t be here without my dad.
“I’ll be a Yellowjacket for life,” Payton added. “Stepping onto that field on Friday night’s meant everything to me. Now all I can think about is walking on that field (TCF Bank Stadium) in front of 50,000 cheering fans. I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life!”