Photo: Augsburg Athletics

Posted On: 03/30/21 7:01 PM

2020 was a tough year athletically for a lot of players, programs, and divisions of football, both in high school and collegiatley. Among the hardest hit were Division III competitors across the country, and my beloved Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) football season was no exception. With the fall season completely axed and the future remaining uncertain, it was unfortunate timing for the newly named Augsburg University Auggies head coach Derrin Lamker and his staff in the 612, who took over the program right before the start of 2020 and are working their butts off to turn things around for the Auggies. Luckily, Augsburg couldn’t have made a better hire in Lamker, who graduated from the school in 1997 after quarterbacking the Auggies to a ’97 MIAC championship and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA national tournament – just the second conference title and first NCAA tourney appearance in school history. He was also named the MIAC MVP and an All-Region selection that season, as well as a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy – which is the DIII equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. It gets better though, as Lamker was not only a three-year starter on the football team but also a three-year starter on the basketball squad and played two seasons of baseball for Augsburg. Talk about a stud, man. He went onto become one of the best high school football coaches in the state, ultimately leading the Osseo Orioles to one of the best state tournament runs in Minnesota history and a big-school championship in 2015. He also earned Minnesota State 6A Coach of the Year honors and won three conference titles and two section titles with Osseo, and then served as the Head Coach at Edina, leading the Hornets to the team’s third state tournament appearance in school history. With such a lengthy and accomplished coaching resume, he was no doubt the right choice for the job, and last year I was lucky enough to sit down with Lamker to talk about the new-look Auggies, some parts of his recruiting philosophy, and the benefits of Augsburg as a school, football program, and community. With the upcoming host of spring MIAC contests, I thought the timing couldn’t be better to revisit the conversation and bring to our subscribers an in-depth look at the Auggies and Lamker’s strong push on the recruiting trail.

To preface things, I am a Minneapolis native, and although that makes me biased to root for the Auggies, the school offers a ton of opportunities for its students to succeed and thrive to the best of their abilities that not a lot of other colleges and universities in the state can offer. To begin, it is above and beyond the most diverse school in the MIAC. As a product of Minneapolis’ public schools, I cannot even begin to attest to the benefits of going to school with a wide variety of races, upbringings, and cultural differences, and although I am a proud St. Olaf graduate, diversity was far from one of our strong suits. Additionally – and this is solely from my personal experience – Augsburg is much more willing to give financial aid to its students and especially apt at working with students to make sure they can afford to get a well-deserved college education. I also have to add that my alma mater St. Olaf has done an awesome job of servicing low-income students and athletes, with some of them going to school there for so cheap that it was hard not to be jealous, and I’m sure every MIAC school does a great school of awarding deserving students as well. At Southwest though, I got to see kids I went to school with who were incredibly intelligent, but simply couldn’t afford the tuition at other local institutions, and I always noticed Augsburg as willing to give money to Minneapolis kids to make sure they can go to college. I’ve also seen a multitude of Augsburg graduates go on to find a ton of success as a post-grad, and a lot of them make sure to stay in Minneapolis and work to better the community they grew up in. Additionally, Augsburg offers the “StepUP” program, which provides specific on-campus housing to recovering addicts in-order to help them get a college degree. I haven’t seen a lot of these programs even tried to be replicated in the state, let alone the nation. These impressions have made a lasting imprint in my mind, and throughout my college football experience, I found it much harder to want to beat the breaks off of Augsburg as opposed to the other opponents we saw week-to-week. For that reason, I didn’t find great solace in a conference opponent struggling, and can’t even begin to describe how excited and hopeful I became when I saw Lamker was hired as the Augsburg head coach. Below I have transcribed a narrative from our conversation last year, and within it, Lamker bestowed upon me a ton of valuable tidbits regarding recruiting, MIAC football, and his personal coaching philosophy. Thanks for reading.

At the time of our conversation, Augsburg was coming off of the commitments of Elk River standouts Adam Nelson Adam Nelson RB Elk River | 2019 State MN and Cody Newhouse, and with that on my mind we quickly jumped into recruiting. Lamker explained that recruiting for the Auggies never really ends. As opposed to some other competitors in the conference, Lamker explained that “they don’t get the types of kids we get, the more transient kids. So we’re going to keep getting them (until camp starts.)” He went onto explain – which in hindsight was spot on – that ” some people aren’t going to realize is (because of the pandemic and loss of fall sports) we’re going to get better players because other colleges are going to get some of their current athletes to stay an additional year or two because of their redshirts and COVID, so there’s going to be a lot of good players who still need a place to go (coming out of high school), so football should be getting better not only at the DIII level but everywhere else as well.” He couldn’t be more correct, as I’ve personally seen some big-time prospects decide to stay close to home since the pandemic started and play in the MIAC. This is especially noteworthy, as both MN and WI kids consistently are heavily recruited by DII’s in the area, so the option to go DII or DIII is a constant predicament for many kids from those states. This brings us to another interesting point made by Lamker, who explained that when recruiting: “one of the kinds of things we do is tell a kid is, ’hey, if you got a full ride somewhere, take it, by all means.’ But if you’re only getting $1000 for your books to go somewhere to play DII ball, I’ll say ’you want to think about that again and see where you really want to be.’ Because there’s 26 scholarships for 120 kids sometimes, and some have 30 at the most, but that’s generally all the school gets, so that’s really important for kids to understand and know before they really come to a decision.” He brings up a great point, as some recruits don’t understand how scholarship numbers work at the DII level, and sometimes when you’re offered that does not mean you were offered a full ride. We then dove deeper into recruiting, and I went onto ask about where the Augsburg staff was focusing on geographically when recruiting. Lamker replied that: “we’ve gone after kids from everywhere, but our big focus has been on using our alumni network. If we got an alumni involved in Worthington football (for example), send me one kid from there. So we kind of lean on our alumni to send us one kid to visit, and when you do that, you create connection. Let’s say we sign that kid, then guess what? That alumni may come and watch the game, so it’s a whole big circle and it really helps for people to have some skin in the game and make them feel apart of things. We’re not always going to get these commits, but that’s ok.” He went onto explain things being flexible and understanding a prospect is key in recruiting battles. As stated,you also can’t go after the kids who might not do as well in a big city. Hey, if you’re from a small town and like it that way, Augsburg may not be the best fit for you and maybe you would do better at another spot in the conference. Do what’s best for you.” I appreciated his willingness to see the differences in prospects, and he went onto explain what Augsburg offers in terms of strengths when a recruit looks at the school. In his words: “Our big thing right now is diversity. On the top of every job chart at this point in time is the word: diversity. You can’t get hired unless you have some kind of diversity in your experience. So when we are recruiting kids we will tell them that we have a student body made up of over 50% students of color, when companies come in looking for potential hires, they know that our kids have worked in a diverse enviornement all four years. Because no other MIAC schools come anywhere close to that, this is going to set them apart in the job market post graduation. Am I saying kids from St. John’s aren’t going to get a job after college? No, absolutely not, but if youre here and working in a diverse environment all four years going to school here, it helps and it gets you ready for the real world, because we always say this is the “real world, real life, with real people.” So that’s one of our recruiting mantras, and the other would be the “Four for Forty” that we talk about a lot. If you give us four years we’ll prepare you for the next 40.” 

I was picking up what he was putting down, and we next moved into how he felt COVID was going to affect his Auggies 2020 season. A lot of what he said was spot on, and he made sure to throw in a little extra love for the Augsburg experience, telling me that “another benefit of Augsburg is a lot of kids can commute to school and live at home, if they want to, and that’s a pretty rare thing to be able to do, so we’re going to have a few kids who will be able to come to practice and then drive home, and save the 10,000 bucks.”  Because we were on the cusp of beginning a fall without DIII football, I had to ask him about what the loss of non-conference games meant for that season, and I think Lamker hit the nail on the head with his response, stating “what I really think it will hurt is the camaraderie. The road trips are just fun. And I know a lot of the coaches take it for granted sometimes, but I remember sitting on the back of the bus and watching a movie and talking (with fondness). So that will also hurt a little bit. And then game situations as well, we do this to play in games. We want to play in games, and we don’t – and some people will lie about this – but we don’t do this to practice. So it’s our job to be creative during this COVID time and make competitive situations.” 

What I miss more than anything is the bus rides and the locker room from when I played college ball, and I’m very much looking forward to the current MIAC athletes being able to share those experiences soon. To end things, Lamker touched on a topic which I’ve tired to address before here on PrepRedzoneMN, and that is the evolution of the word “offer” and how it has especially impacted DIII ball. Lamker told me that “we’ve gone a little different route because we are offering kids “roster spots.” Because an offer to me is a athletic scholarship. None of us offer athletic scholarships, so I want kids to be clear on that and I wish coaches would be more clear. Some say “oh, offer him.” Well, what are you offering him? Tell him what you’re really offering him! Let’s just cut to the chase right now. And to that effect I want DII schools to be more clear and say “hey, we’re offering this kid a $1000 for his books.” Let’s tell people what exactly we’re offering them and be transparent with these young men. And I know some people take offense to that but it’s the truth.” I think that truth, honesty, and transparency are three of the most important things in recruiting, and sadly those traits are lacking depending on where you look, so hearing Lamker candidly talk about that dilemma was refreshing to say the least. We ended things with a serious knowledge drop by the experienced coach, who correctly predicted how recruiting in the states of MN and WI would go during the pandemic stricken 2020 year. He told me that “what kids need to realize if you’re good enough, big enough, fast enough, and have the intangibles they will find you. So this idea that you’re not going to be receiving exposure is just wrong. If you’re going to get offered (D1) than you’ve been offered. You see very few offers coming once the season gets going. And also, teams have a good feeling of what you can do if they’ve seen you before (live or in junior film), so I wouldn’t be concerned youre always going to get found if you’re big enough, fast enough, and good enough. It’s not your high school coach that gets you a scholarship, you earn it on your own because of your size, your speed, your grades, and your attitude.” These words ring true today, and throughout my re-reading of our conversation I was impressed but how spot on Lamker was about the topics we covered. With an honest, kind, and inspiring aura around him, it was no wonder that Lamker and his staff have been doing so well on the recruiting trail this past year, and with upcoming games against St. Thomas, Martin Luther, and St. Olaf, the first and last of which I’m hoping to attend in-person, it will be a great opportunity to see how his philosophy has materalilzed team wide. Whether you’re a prospect or a parent reading this, I hope you recognize some of the knowledge the Augsburg legend has reiterated. With big decisions coming for the class of 2021 and the class of 2022 recruitment well under way, I hope this article has made you learn something about the program, where it’s heading, and the recruiting landscape as a whole. As said best in the 612, Auggie Up!

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