Leading by exampleFOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Working hard in the weight room and on the field, Northwestern High School senior Ryan Miesbauer exemplifies Tiger football.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
It’s like the nature vs. nurture debate.
Ryan Miesbauer has great natural ability, but he also puts in the time to improve as a football player. Stop by the weight room at Northwestern High School on any given day, and there’s a good chance you’ll find Miesbauer working out.
“Ryan is the strongest player on our team,” said Dennis Scherz, head coach of the Tigers. “He benches over 340 and squats over 500.”
On average, Miesbauer said he spends about an hour and a half in the weight room five days a week. Even when school was out for the summer, Miesbauer trekked into Maple to get a workout with his teammates. Putting in the hours to improve over the summer months gave the Tigers a shared sense of purpose, and Miesbauer thinks it helped the team coalesce as Northwestern pushed to return to the playoffs for the first time in half a decade.
The football season has ended now, but the bond between teammates remains strong.
When asked in an interview this week how important weight room work was on a scale of 1 to 10, Miesbauer got a little help from a pair teammates who stopped by to badger the senior. The two hovered just behind Miesbauer, prodding him to answer.
“Eleven. Say eleven,” they whispered.
Miesbauer shook his head and then indulged his friends.
“It would actually be like 11,” he said, drawing a cheer from the two classmates. “It’s really important to get in there and get all of your strength work.”
Miesbauer, this year’s Superior Telegram Football Player of the Year, knows exactly what takes to succeed on the gridiron. He scored 21 touchdowns this season while rushing for 1,487 total yards. For the year, Miesbauer averaged more than 100 yards per game.
On defense, the senior was also a team leader, hard-hitting and relentless.
“He exemplifies Northwestern football,” Scherz said. “He leads by example and is the heaviest hitter on our team.”
Miesbauer was named to the Heart O’ North All-Conference first team as both a running back and a linebacker. He was one of Northwestern’s team captains this season and also made the all-region team as a running back.
In his past four years playing football, Miesbauer has endured a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows.
In eighth and ninth grade, Miesbauer played on teams that went undefeated. As a sophomore, he started for the Northwestern varsity squad, and the Tigers almost went winless.
With the Gordon L. Nelson Athletic Complex still under construction, Northwestern played most of its home games 45 minutes away on the artificial turf at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The Tigers entered the final game of the season still looking for a win. They came away with a 35-point victory over Cumberland and ended the year with a 1-8 record. Miesbauer, as a sophomore, was the leading rusher in that final game, finishing with 198 yards on 15 carries.
In his junior season, Miesbauer continued to excel and helped lead Northwestern to a 5-4 record. The season was a definite improvement, but the Tigers still ended one win shy of qualifying for the WIAA playoffs.
This year, Miesbauer’s high school football career came full circle as he and his senior teammates finished the regular season undefeated — just as they had as freshmen.
“We always dreamed about doing this,” Miesbauer said. “We knew we had to work for it. We knew it wasn’t just going to come.”
Advancing to the sectional finals this year is one of Miesbauer’s highlights from his time at Northwestern. Earning a place on the Wall of Honor for 1,000 yards rushing is another memorable feat, but Miesbauer said he didn’t really gain the accomplishment on his own.
“I couldn’t have done it without all the linemen, and especially Kevin Derick,” Miesbauer said. “He was the outside rush that opened up the inside.
“The offense we run depends on everybody.”
While Miesbauer took teams apart inside with pure strength this season, Derick used his speed to attack on the outside. If opponents focused on one of the seniors, the other was able to take advantage.
“We’ve been playing since sixth grade together, so that helps,” Derick said. “Starting at a young age is a big deal. It really helps build the team.”
Miesbauer and Derick have learned how to play off each other since they started playing on the varsity team as sophomores. This year, the two combined for almost 3,000 yards rushing.
“Kevin is a very hard worker,” Miesbauer said. “This year he has learned to block way better and just became an all-around better player as a senior, which I think really helped contribute to the whole team’s success.” Miesbauer said.
Derick, meanwhile, credits the blocking of Miesbauer and junior T.J. Polkoski for allowing him to surpass 1,000 yards this season.
“Ryan’s a tank,” Derick said. “Obviously you can tell he’s huge, and he’s not slow. He has speed when he wants to use it. He knows how to hit, he knows how to run, he knows how to block, and that’s a huge part of why I’ve gotten as far as I did.
“He knows how to play the game of football, that’s for sure.”
Next year, Miesbauer will look to bring his game sense to the college level. He is interested in playing but said he is waiting to make his decision about where to play. So far a number of schools have shown interest, including UMD, which would allow Miesbauer to participate in both track and football. Ultimately, Miesbauer said his decision will come down to the quality of the football program.
Miesbauer and Derick worked together well as seniors, but from sixth to eighth grade in the Pony League, the teammates were actually rivals. Miesbauer played for the Bears and Derick played for the Vikings.
The future Tigers learned the fundamentals they would need to succeed at the varsity level, and they also played in some games they remember to this day.
“Eighth grade year, the Bears beat the Vikings and I outran the ‘speedster’ to the end zone,” Miesbauer said.
“You did not,” Derick said. “I’m going to get (the tape) from Steve. I’ll show you that I caught you.”
The story of a number
Miesbauer was a state qualifier in wrestling last year and in track for the shot put, but football has special meaning to him.
“It’s what I started out doing,” Miesbauer said.
Miesbauer was inspired to play football by his father, Darrin. Darrin Miesbauer also played for the Northwestern Tigers, playing the same position as Ryan Miesbauer. The two even share the same jersey number: 44.
“My sixth-grade year they didn’t have 44, and I didn’t even know, so I picked 35 and it was a white jersey. Everyone else had gold,” Ryan Miesbauer said. “So my last game he grabbed a 44 gold and that’s been my number every since.”