Taking the long road to college football

More news about: Cal Lutheran
Matt Younkers
Cal Lutheran athletics photo by Kylie McEnroe

By Josh Smith

Matt Younkers in practice
Matt Younkers is working his way up the Cal Lutheran depth chart at wide receiver.
Cal Lutheran athletics photo

It isn’t a regular occurrence to see a 26-year-old junior in his first year with a college football program be named a team captain.

But Matt Younkers isn’t your regular football player.

Younkers had a unique route to the Cal Lutheran football team. The journey that led Younkers from being a high school graduate to a Marine to a business owner to a junior college student and ultimately a Division III football player has yielded a tremendous amount of experience that suits him to be a leader for the Kingsmen as they embark on their quest to win a SCIAC title.

“He brings a level of maturity and life experiences that we don’t often get around here,” CLU head coach Ben McEnroe said.

Younkers graduated from high school in 2009 and left for the Marine Corps about seven months later.

“At that time, school just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t working out the way I had planned on it. I was just an average student, but I knew I wanted to do something more and something greater,” Younkers said. “So I went that military route.”

As he learned more about each branch of the military, he discovered the Marine Corps set high standards of excellence, and Younkers wanted to see if he could drive himself and meet those standards.

He served four years, spending time after boot camp in Japan, where he assisted with relief efforts following the tsunami disaster in 2011.

“Marines are known for being fighters, but we’re also known for humanitarian relief,” Younkers said. “When I was in Asia and Japan, I got to do a lot of stuff – helping other people, helping other cultures. I got to travel through Southeast Asia – like Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.”

In 2014, after completing his stint with the Marines. Younkers took some time to himself and ended up starting his own business in Ventura, Calif. Younkers provided transportation services for funeral homes.

“I was doing that for close to a year, and I realized that now that I have this experience side of the business world, I needed to get the educational side of it. I needed a better understanding and a better grasp, so I went to Ventura College,” Younkers said.

As it turned out, Younkers’ friend Michael Davis had attended Ventura, a two-year school, after high school, played two years, transferred to a larger school and then spent a brief period in the NFL.

“Since the NFL didn’t work out for him completely, he ended up getting a coaching job at Ventura,” Younkers explained. “When I started attending school at Ventura College, he was like, ‘Hey, you still have your eligibility, you should take this opportunity.’

“I’m glad I committed to it,” he continued. “I had a blast.”

Following his time at Ventura, Younkers had offers to play football at Division II and NAIA schools. However, he was had a larger focus on staying somewhere local.

He says Cal Lutheran was the best fit for him, and he wasn’t the first military member to find a connection at with the football program at CLU.

“In the 11 years that I’ve been here, we’ve had three or four men that have gone on to become officers in the Marine Corps,” McEnroe said. “Over the previous three seasons, we would bring the local officer candidate recruiters and team up during training camp to do team building and leadership exercises with our team.

“And then I was selected to go out to an educator’s workshop in Quantico for a week, and our linebacker coach got to go this year,” he continued. “So we’ve had a working relationship and a history with the Marine Corps since I’ve been here.

“We take a lot of pride at Cal Lutheran in supporting veterans. The ability to have one that plays football is pretty special for us.”

Despite being about five years older than his classmates, Younkers said he didn’t have much difficulty acclimating to being an athlete again.

With the physical aspect of the game under control, Younkers has been able to devote more time to being a leader for the team.

“He is not scared to speak his mind,” McEnroe said. “He’s not scared to hold guys accountable.

“I think if you asked our guys, they would say Matt is pretty cool,” the coach added. “But he’s also probably the guy they’re scared the most of just because he tells it like it is and he’s got some dirt on his boots. They’re not going to give him too much grief when he tells them to do something.”

“That’s what I love about being here and being older,” Younkers said, noting he was glad to have mentors in the military when he was a 19-year-old Marine. “I get to have an influence on these players and develop the culture of the team.”

His role as a leader was confirmed when he was designated one of this season’s team captains.

In previous years, players at Cal Lutheran would select team captains. Then the coaching staff would meet on it, and McEnroe would make the final call. But the head coach decided to adopt an application process he discovered was utilized by other programs.

“I made up an application for team captain. It was very specific in how I wanted it delivered – what time, how I wanted it folded. I put all those instructions down to see what we would get,” McEnroe said. “(Younkers) followed everything to the letter, of course, and was very profound in his communication of what a captain should be and what he would bring to the table.”

On the field, McEnroe said Younkers is extremely tough and fearless, which has made him a key contributor on special teams. New to the program, Younkers is still working his way up the wide receiver depth chart after a brief stint in the defensive backfield.

“As he gets more comfortable in the system, you’re going to see a guy who understands concepts very well, a guy that knows how to get open and a guy that has zero fear when it comes to going across the middle,” McEnroe said.

No matter where the CLU coaching staff has utilized Younkers’ talents, McEnroe said the team’s has gotten 100 percent effort out of the junior.

“He’s unique in that he’ll go through with the two-deep at receiver and learn what we’re doing. And then if he’s standing around too much, he disappears and he goes over and runs scout team and gets that group going,” the coach said.

In Week 1, the Kingsmen built a 27-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, and held off Pacific Lutheran to win, 27-21. Quarterback Cole Chandler rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another in the victory.

Ending the game strong was a good sign for Cal Lutheran following a couple of letdowns a season ago.

“Our big emphasis in the offseason was we had to learn to finish,” McEnroe said. “We weren’t too far away. We were maybe eight to 12 plays away from possibly being an 8-1 team last year.”

The head coach hopes the win over the Lutes is a sign of good things to come this year in what he perceives as a talented, but wide-open conference.

“It’s a lot more blue-collar, tougher team than we’ve had the last three or four years, in my opinion thus far. And they’re learning how to finish things,” McEnroe said. “There’s a confidence, but there’s also a hunger there, which always makes it fun to come to work.”

Helle rescues Central

Wide receiver Kohle Helle filled in for injured quarterback Nate Boland, passing for 247 yards and two touchdowns to lead Central to a 33-22 win over Augustana on Saturday.

Helle, who has taken snaps under center at Central – but primarily in designed running situations, chipped in 102 yards rushing as well to account for 349 yards of total offense.

“The nice thing with Kohle is he’s played quarterback before, he’s a coach’s kid and he’s a senior, so he was ready for this,” Central coach Jeff McMartin said in a school news release following the game. “We didn’t anticipate this. Early in the week, I didn’t see this coming. But for Kohle to do this, and for our offensive staff to quickly put together a game plan that fit his skills, I thought was great.”

Number of the Week

263 – as in the number of receiving yards racked up by UW-La Crosse wide receiver Nick Holcomb. The wideout caught 10 passes during the Eagles 45-14 win at Ripon, including TD catches of 28, 72, 32 and 38 yards. The rest of the UW-L receiving group caught 12 passes for 71 yards.

The rest of the West

J.Dan Sturgeon threw for 248 yards in his debut at starting quarterback as UW-Stout upset St. Thomas, 25-22. The sophomore tossed three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score to Josh Malone with less than 1:30 to play. … Concordia-Moorhead stymied UW-Whitewater at the goal line to secure a 25-17 victory. Chad Johnson logged 146 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries to power the offense while the Warhawks fell to 0-2 for the first time since 1999. … Nick Slavens and Ian Kuykendall combined for 181 rushing yards and three touchdowns, helping Luther beat St. Olaf, 44-20, in the team’s inaugural game on the school’s new blue turf. … The Puget Sound defense recorded seven sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions in a lopsided win over Occidental, 61-6. The Loggers broke up 13 passes and finished the game with 10 tackles for a loss. … Chazz Middlebrook gained 171 yards on 26 carries and scored four touchdowns to power MacMurray to a 54-28 win over Martin Luther. … UW-Oshkosh converted 9-of-11 third downs on offense and forced four turnovers on defense on its way to beating Virginia-Lynchburg, 74-7. … After mustering just seven points in the first half, Simpson’s offense broke out in the second to beat Illinois College, 45-13. Sam Sasso threw all four of his TD passes after halftime, finishing with 248 yards. … Linfield trailed Chapman by two at halftime, but rallied to win 27-12. J.D. Lasswell caught two touchdown passes to help the Wildcats prevail. … Dusty Krueger led St. John’s to a 49-14 win over Presentation with 144 rushing yards and a touchdown. Through two weeks, the Johnnies have outscored their opponents 147-14. … Dubuque’s 1-2 punch of Dwayne Allen Jr. and Maurece Herrion netted a combined 268 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and the Spartans’ defense intercepted three passes in Saturday’s 37-13 win over Pacific. … Michael Diggins led UW-River Falls in rushing and receiving in a 20-12 win over Gustavus Adolphus. Diggins carried the ball 24 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns and caught seven passes for 57 receiving yards. … Taylor Lindahl completed a 92-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Welch and a 50-yard scoring strike to Trevor Lundberg late in the first quarter, but Northwestern (Minn.) needed overtime to defeat Eureka, 19-13. … Pomona-Pitzer scored 31 straight points, erasing an early deficit and defeating host Rhodes, 38-31. Running back Aseal Birir recorded a game-high 109 yards rushing and two touchdowns and added a passing touchdown in the Sagehens’ victory. … Augsburg quarterback Quinn Frisell threw three touchdown passes and scored two more on the ground to lead his team to a 38-16 win over Concordia (Wis.). … Chase Abbington rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown to help Westminster (Mo.) top Minnesota-Morris, 23-7. … JT DenHartog powered UW-Eau Claire to a 34-20 win over Wisconsin Lutheran. The quarterback had 248 yards passing and a touchdown, coupled with 91 rushing yards and three touchdowns. … Wartburg defeated Monmouth, 36-13, behind a 307-yard, four-touchdown performance from quarterback Matt Sacia. Sacia completed 31-of-36 pass attempts in the win. … Alex Payne’s 2-yard run with 2:19 broke a 34-34 tie and propelled Iowa Wesleyan to a win over Crown. Rodolfo Amezcua caught eight passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 41-34 win. … Tino Green racked up 192 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries as Coe defeated Cornell, 59-21. … Michael McKeown caught seven passes for 101 yards and a score during Whitworth’s 49-10 win over Whittier. Ian Kolste finished the game with 255 yards passing and three TDs. … The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps defense limited Lewis and Clark to 4 yards rushing in a 37-16 victory. On offense, Chris Cziesla hauled in five catches for 111 yards and one touchdown. … St. Scholastica picked up its first win of the year, a 47-27 decision at Greenville. Zach Edwards passed for 285 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

Rank ‘em

Nine teams from the West Region were represented in the Week 2 Top 25 poll.

UW-Oshkosh remained ranked No. 3, receiving two first place votes. Linfield and St. John’s both rose one spot to Nos. 6 and 7, respectively.

St. Thomas fell six spots to No. 10, while UW-Platteville remained No. 13.

Whitworth climbed four spots to No. 20 while Redlands slipped one spot to No. 21.

Following their wins over ranked opponents, Concordia-Moorhead and UW-Stout entered the poll at Nos. 23 and 25, respectively.

UW-Whitewater fell out of the Top 25. Coe (58), UW-W (16), Wartburg (5), UW-La Crosse (5) and Dubuque (2) received votes in this week’s poll.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

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