UTICA – “We want decision makers that can communicate. And he can make the throws that we need him to make.”
That’s how Concordia University head football coach Patrick Daberkow described his newest quarterback commit, Centennial senior Wyatt Ehlers.
Centennial held a signing ceremony last Wednesday in Utica for Ehlers, a four-year starting quarterback who helped lead the Broncos to the first state championship in school history last November when they beat Norfolk Catholic to take the Class C-2 crown.
Ehlers had a high school career to remember. Through four seasons he passed for 7,318 yards and 83 touchdowns while rushing for 1,866 yards and 26 scores.
Initially, Morningside College was on the top of Ehlers’ list to attend school and play football. But others kept entering the race as his recruitment went on, like Nebraska Wesleyan University, Hastings College and some other schools in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
But in the end, Concordia was the one that gave Ehlers the feeling his high school coach, Evan Klanecky, told him he should get when visiting a team and campus.
“Coach K (Klanecky) always tells us, and this sounds super cliché, but when you go there you get a feeling,” Ehlers said of why he chose Concordia. “And I really enjoyed Coach Daberkow, he’s a super awesome guy and I have a ton of respect for him. The people at the college were amazing, I just loved the place.”
Daberkow and his staff have kept an eye on Ehlers for a long time with him being right down the road from Seward.
“Really, if I think back, it would be his sophomore year where I first remember talking about him,” Daberkow said. “So we’ve been aware of Wyatt and his teammates for a while.”
Ehlers’ sophomore year at the helm of the Centennial offense is when the Broncos started to gain momentum, and a new “power spread” offense installed by Klanecky and his staff was a major reason why.
Centennial started playing faster and didn’t huddle much. The offense was geared towards getting the ball to its athletes in space and spreading a defense sideline to sideline. That fit the skillset of the 5-foot-11 Ehlers, who excelled at reading a defense and making decisions on where to go with the ball.
“We have a certain amount of pre-snap reads, but when the ball is snapped he’s extremely good at getting through reads,” Klanecky said in an interview during Ehlers’ sophomore year in 2016. “That makes him very dangerous. And it’s not anything that we’re doing. He’s worked at it and he understands it.”
Daberkow said he tries to keep things simple for his quarterbacks at Concordia. But he also wants them to be able to make the right decisions at the right time. Daberkow sees those traits and more in Ehlers.
“Wyatt has all the skillsets you need to play quarterback at the college level,” Daberkow said. “The most attractive thing about Wyatt as a football prospect was all the intangible things that we got to know through the recruiting process, through being close and watching his home games, through meeting with Coach Klanecky.
“The intangible aspects of his leadership, that’s what really stood out,” he added. “That quarterback spot is vital that you have somebody that can communicate and be a good leader.”
Ehlers has been a dual-threat all four years at Centennial, and has shown he’s able to run the ball and be a productive member of the defense, too. He racked up 58 tackles and a team-high four interceptions in his senior year at a safety.
“His athletic ability shows through on film – he can play a number of positions,” Daberkow said, “but because of his leadership ability and because of his arm and his big-game experience, we like him as a quarterback.”
Ehlers, who plans on majoring in agriculture business while at Concordia, loved his time on the football field at Centennial and has made many memories. He obviously won’t forget the state championship. But there’s another memory that sticks out to him, and it’s one that involves a little light-hearted fun with a future teammate at Concordia, Logan Kreizel, who will be a sophomore tight end for the Bulldogs next season.
“I’ll probably never forget that one,” Ehlers said.
It was Ehlers’ junior year in 2017, and Centennial was trying to hold on to a second-half lead against Kreizel’s Lincoln Lutheran squad in the state semifinals. Klanecky called a trick play, one where receiver Jackson Hirschfeld would throw the ball to Ehlers.
It was a play Ehlers and his teammates practiced over and over. But they had never ran it in a game.
“It was time and we called it (the play), and I got pretty nervous because ‘it’s show time, we have to do this,’” Ehlers recalled. “At first, I thought the ball wouldn’t get to me, I thought he was going to pick it – the Kreizel kid who’s actually at Concordia now.”
The result? A 37-yard first-down reception for Ehlers, his only catch of his high school career. That catch helped Centennial hold on to its lead and punch its ticket to the state championship game.
That was just one play of several that Ehlers likely won’t forget soon.
“I couldn’t have wanted it to end any other way. It’s been a blessing,” Ehlers said of his high school career. “I’ve had so much fun and would give anything to go back and do some of it again. I’ve just had the greatest time. We talk all the time about how far we’ve come, and it’s just been a ride.”