It seems that every couple years or so, Dickinson High or a school in the area churns out a prospect that has the opportunity to hit a big-time college program outside of NDSU or UND (evenÂ though Dickinson and the schools around the area have a handful of former athletes playing various Division I sports there).
Katelyn Steffan is in her junior year and third as a starter playing volleyball at Colorado State, Cole Frenzel battled injury issues but had a fine freshman year for the Arizona baseball team. Killdeerâ€™s Austin Dufault has been a three-year starter for the Colorado menâ€™s basketball team and Joe Hanstad, a Dickinson senior, has verbally committed to play menâ€™s basketball for Boise State next season.
So, whoâ€™s next?
If you ask Bismarck Century boys soccer coach Joel Jahnke, itâ€™s sophomore Austin Mack.
When I asked Jahnke on Tuesday after the Centuryâ€™s 7-0 win over Mandan if Mack has a chance to play college soccer at a high level, he said:Â â€œAbsolutely. Without a doubt.â€
Mack plays for the Century soccer team because of a North Dakota High School Activities Association cooperative agreement with Dickinson High, which does not provide the sport to either boys or girls.
He has started every game for the Patriots (9-1-3) this season while also balancing his schedule as a cross-country runner for the Midgets. Jahnke said Mack is one of the most athletic players he has ever coached and that his soccer potential is immeasurable.
Interestingly, a lot of what Jahnke says about Mack is comparable to what coaches say when they talk about Hanstad. He uses phrases and words like â€œnaturally gifted,â€ â€œtruly athletic,â€ â€œspecial,â€ and â€œtechnical.â€
â€œIf you just watch him for a half-hour, you can see he can do some things just because of his speed and physical dominance,â€ Jahnke said. â€œHeâ€™s just so athletic. Thatâ€™s what colleges are looking for.â€
Mack, a natural midfielder, has played every position on the field except keeper for the Patriots this season. He is 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, a respectable size for a 16-year-old soccer player and, looking at his parents, has the potential to get taller and stronger. Most recently he has been playing center back, a defensive position.
Jahnke, whose program has sent several players to the college level, said Mack has the talent to break into D-I with two more years of work.
The kid doesnâ€™t stop playing soccer either. Last summer, Mack helped the Dakota United U-19 team win the North Dakota Youth Soccer Association Cup. In the winter, he travels to Bismarck once a week to play in an organized indoor game. He also plays in offseason pick-up games with Dickinson Stateâ€™s international students and former high school players throughout the offseason.
â€œHeâ€™s no stranger to soccer,â€ Jahnke said.
Jahnke points to a team ball juggling contest at the beginning of fall practice. He said Mack won with 125 juggles â€” 40 more than the contestâ€™s runner-up â€” and then just kicked the ball away because he’d had enough.
â€œThat just tells you right there how much time he spends on the ball, on his own,â€ Jahnke said. â€œIf heâ€™s not at training, I can promise you heâ€™s doing something on his own to get better.â€
Mack has been invited to be a guest player for a team at a College Showcase tournament in Spokane, Wash., after the high school season ends.
“They donâ€™t just do that to anyone,” Jahnke said. “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind heâ€™ll be a college player, if he chooses.”