The Winona State football program had another strong season in 2019. Behind Head Coach Tom Sawyer, the Warriors finished with an 8-3 regular season before falling in the first round of the playoffs to the University of Nebraska-Kearney. It was their fourth straight regular season with at least eight regular-season wins and their second post-season berth in three years. Recruiting Coordinator, Co-Defensive Coordinator, and Defensive Line Coach Matthew Ulrich took some time to fill northstarfootballnews.com in on what the Warriors’ approach was during the most recent recruiting cycle.
What are your general thoughts on the 2019 season for your program?
We were happy to get back to the post-season for the second time in three years and are looking to return to the playoffs in 2020.
What are your overall thoughts on this recruiting class?
It was a big class for us with thirty-five high school signees and two transfers. It addressed the major needs for us at the wide receiver and defensive line positions. We are excited about not only the level of talent in this class but also the types of kids we are bringing in.
What was the strength of the Minnesota class this year?
Our Minnesota class had several multi-year captains, so we are excited about the leadership coming in from our home state. All five linebackers that we brought in in this year’s class are from the state of Minnesota. Two of our top offensive and defensive linemen also came out of Minnesota.
Position-wise, what was your focus this recruiting season?
Wide receiver and defensive line.
Outside of football skills, what do you look for in a potential recruit?
First and foremost, we look for high character kids who will fit into Coach Sawyer’s vision for his program. It is important for us to bring in guys who love football, are physically and mentally tough, and are willing to put the work into being great. Kids typically transition to the college level faster when they come from a winning high school program.
What about your program/school do you stress when talking to a recruit?
That we have a “Family” type atmosphere in our program. Coach Sawyer and his staff are mostly Winona State alumni who care about their players as people first and football players second. Player development and experience is the top priority for our head coach, who is currently number two in Division II in career wins.
With the unfortunate end to the programs in St. Cloud and Crookston – those kids needed a place to go. What was your approach to the guys in this class that were committed to either of those programs?
We started by looking at the all-conference lists for positions of immediate need for us. We also looked at the recent signing classes for those programs for players that we may have been interested in when they were in high school. It is important for us to bring in players that would fit into our program and that we believe would be able to have success at Winona State.
Did you have any last-minute commits or anything that surprised you as this class came together?
We got a key, late commitment from Noah Pappas. He is from Robbinsdale Armstrong in Plymouth, Minnesota, and committed at 10 pm the night before signing day. He is a 6’7 315-pound offensive linemen that was deciding between us and Columbia University in New York.